By Dr. Francisco Garcia
Everyone says children are the future, but did you know the health of our children is critical to the future health of our community? Within public health we recognize a healthy child begins long before they go to school – it begins with their mamas. Even before pregnancy, we can optimize moms’ health to decrease the likelihood their babies are born too soon or too small and may even be able to prevent some birth defects. During pregnancy and those first few years, the growth and development of each child depends upon their parents. This begins with healthy eating and exercises during pregnancy and continuing to do so after their baby is born. Modeling healthy habits and engaging in active play builds a healthy foundation that will be a part of each child their whole life.
Our public health nurses go the extra mile, literally, meeting with folks in their homes offering support and education for parents who may not know how or where to begin. In collaboration with state and national partners, our public health nurses are able to specifically focus on helping vulnerable young women to be nurturing and engaged moms. Young and growing families who may not have the resources or family to call on when questions or concerns arise are able to receive support and guidance from our public health nurses. Nurses meet with families in their home to share information, answer questions and help connect them with local resources that offer parenting services at no cost.
Through one of our programs, the Nurse Family Partnership, a nurse meets one-on-one with young, first-time mothers who are beginning their first trimester and then will stay by her side until the little one turns 2. Through this support, new moms learn how being healthy increases the chances their baby will be healthy. A public health nurse will meet with the new mom to provide information, guidance and support to help her understand how her baby grows and develops during those first years.
Children who have a healthy start will grow and develop at a healthy rate, have fewer health problems, and are more likely to perform better in school. That is why last year the Pima County Health Department public health nurses helped nearly 600 parents and children work toward achieving their optimal state of health.
For Amy and I, being parents has been both challenging and rewarding, but I couldn’t imagine trying to do this alone or without the support, guidance and experience of family and friends. Not everyone has this type of support. Our public health nurses strive to fill that gap and connect these mothers and fathers with community resources that help them be the parents they want to be. Starting even before conception and especially during pregnancy and the first and most critical years of life is how we build a healthy community for everyone, everywhere and every day.