Reducing Infant Mortality through Reproductive Health Education for New/Young Mothers

By Olivia Nalugya

Birth outcomes for young and new mothers are more likely to be poor compared to older mothers. Negative birth outcomes for young mothers have to do with social and economic factors such as stress and domestic abuse. However, based on findings from focus groups on  Kalamazoo Black infant mortality, it was evident that young mothers lack information on how to take care of themselves before, during and after pregnancy which also contributes to poor birth outcomes. This article explores the need for education services for young and first time mothers and also questions the accessibility of such resources in Kalamazoo to young mothers. Recommendations for better or more successful resources for young mothers include models such as the Health Babies Project in the District of Columbia.

The Facts                  

“But I had a stillborn in 1999. August 24, 1999. Quadralia Lashay Thompson may she rest in peace. But I was seventeen years old at that time…”-Female at YWCA Kalamazoo MI

When a child is born, a lot of factors have to be put into consideration to ensure successful development of that child. However, preparation before and during pregnancy is also as important to successful birth outcomes .It is even more complicated for new and young mothers because most of them have no experience at all with the process of child bearing. They need someone to teach them what vitamins to take, what signs to look out for, when to go to the doctor, what to eat and many more. According to the world Health organization, “young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women”. In New York, “8.3%, or 1 in 12 babies born to women of all ages in 2006 were LBW. For teen mothers, the rates are higher – ranging from 9% for White teens to 13.6% for Black, non-Hispanic teens”(SCAA, 2008). The need for reproductive and maternal health education for first time and young mothers was a major recurring theme from interviews conducted with community members and healthcare workers, regarding black infant mortality in Kalamazoo.

The Social Context

A study by Pogarsky et. al revealed that “ Children born to mothers who begin childbearing at a young age experience a variety of negative outcomes” (Porgarsky, Thornberry and Lizotte, 2006). They mainly related these negative outcomes to social issues such as stress, poverty and lack of parental skills, which are common for young mothers. Similarly, a participant in focus groups about black infant mortality narrated: “And by me not being developed, it was like she(the baby)…it got deeper so as far as you can go, like if you’re being hung, you can’t hang yourself unless you go so far. And so she hung herself and that was from me being seventeen years old, stressed out, and also going through domestic, domestic abuse.” It is evident that her pregnancy was complicated by the biological aspects of her being a young mother. In other words, her body was not ‘developed’ enough to handle the demands of pregnancy. However, this was worsened by social factors which contributed immensely to her unfortunate birth outcome. As Porgarsky indicated, young mothers are more prone to such social risk factors. As such, reproductive health education for young and new mothers should be matched with intervention strategies that account for the social risk factors that affect birth outcomes of young mothers.


Prenatal care Awareness-Preparing for child birth

Prenatal care is the first form of medical care an unborn child receives. It constitutes, monitoring the condition of the baby before it is born so that any complications with the pregnancy can be detected. “Mothers who do not receive prenatal care are three times more likely to give birth to a low-weight baby, and their baby is five times more likely to die” (Child Trends Data Bank). Findings from focus groups suggested that mothers, especially new or young mother are less likely to go for regular checkups when they are pregnant. A medical social worker reported that “Well they (mothers) wait about 20 weeks or sometimes, I see, they wait till they get 6 months pregnant and go to their first doctor appointment.” Additionally, the SCAA study in New York reported: “Children of teen mothers visit medical providers less than children born to older mothers (3.8 times vs. 4.3 times).” Nevertheless, it is not enough, to acknowledge that young mothers are less likely to go for medical checkups before or after pregnancy. Deeper questions have to be asked: Why is a young mother unable to go for prenatal care? Does she know that she has to? Does she know where and when to go? A response from a focus group participant regarding her experience after pregnancy to some extent reflects the confusion that young and new mothers face due to lack of awareness about maternal and reproductive health in general: “And you think that ‘ Well grandma said, Do it like this, and my mama said, ‘Do it like this.’ And you are getting your whole friends telling you ‘Do it like this.’ But nobody says ‘Get the baby to the hospital…”


This however does not mean that there are no resources in Kalamazoo for that kind of education. In fact, a health care worker noted that: “…..we have free childbirth classes, free parenting, free daddying boot camp. There are a lot of options that Bronson itself provides, and then in the community there’s even way more…” It is evident, that there are missing connections between reproductive health and parenting education resources and their consumption. In other words: are the resources accessible to individuals who need them? How can healthcare workers reach out more to young mothers so that they can receive the necessary preparation during and after pregnancy?

Conclusion-The bigger picture

It is quite obvious why a young or new mother might have poor birth outcomes compared to older women. The biological constraints associated with early childbearing are undeniable but the lack of parenting experience and firsthand knowledge on what to do during pregnancy is a major contributing factor. However, we should also not be oblivious of the social factors that contribute to poor birth outcomes of young mothers such as domestic abuse, lack of access to resources and financial restrictions. These social contributors to infant mortality are not only unique to young mothers per se but young mothers are more prone to such risk factors. Additionally, there needs to be a critical evaluation about availability and accessibility or awareness of reproductive health education services in Kalamazoo to young and new mothers in particular.


These are few model programs that could applied to Kalamazoo to offer better reproductive health education services to young mothers:

  • Healthy Babies Project: Based in District Columbia, this program helps a risk families and young mothers to have healthier babies. They also offer other life skills assistance such as helping a mother manage her finances and also enabling most of them to go back to school. What makes this project a good model for Kalamazoo is that it targets mothers and there is an understanding of both the social, psychological and economic factors that may deter young mothers from accessing resources: “HBP removes barriers to receiving services and connects at-risk pregnant teenagers, women, and families to resources they need…” However, the program has a couple of donors which enables them to offer better services to young mothers. This could also be reflective of how effective their work is though. For more information visit: