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Archive for the ‘Healthy Pregnancies’ Category

By Hilarie Meyers, Development Intern

Earlier this year, the Virginia House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee killed a bill (HB 1488) that would have limited the use of restraints and shackles on incarcerated pregnant women.

The bill only proposed limited reforms to current practices by “[limiting] the restraint of pregnant inmates during labor, transport to a medical facility, delivery, or postpartum recovery in the commonwealth’s correctional facilities.” Though far from comprehensive, HB 1488 would have provided a basic level of protection for pregnant inmates in Virginia, representing a moment of progress in a state with an already unacceptable “F+” status quo for treatment of incarcerated women. However, the bill’s defeat undoubtedly marks a step backwards in the fight to promote the rights and wellbeing of women, children, and prisoners.

The story of HB 1488 sheds light on the use of shackles and restraints on incarcerated pregnant women at both prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers around the country.  This practice demonstrates a disregard for the health and rights of incarcerated women and their children.  In fact, a number of major correctional and medical associations (including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Medical Association) oppose the use of restraints on pregnant women and new mothers and for good reason: the practice can and often does have detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of both mother and child.

According to RH Reality Check, a shackled inmate is more likely to fall and injure herself and/or her child. Shackling can lead to harmful complications during labor, delivery, and the postpartum recovery process, all of which require mobility.  According to Amnesty International:

Physician Dr. Patricia Garcia notes that “women in labor need to be mobile so that they can assume various positions…Having the woman in shackles compromises the ability to manipulate her legs into the proper position for treatment. The mother and baby’s health could be compromised if there were complications during delivery such as hemorrhage or decrease in fetal heart beat. If there were a need for a C Section, the mother needs to be moved to an operating room immediately and a delay of even five minutes could result in permanent brain damage for the baby. …”

Numerous women, such as Shawanna Nelson, whose story was featured in the New York Times, have reported lasting damage to their health after being forced to give birth while immobilized and, in Nelson’s case, without sufficient pain medication.

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For the last couple of years, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has been doing a lot to turn around the conversation on teen pregnancy and young motherhood. From sitting on advisory tables on reproductive health at the White House, to releasing our white paper on removing stigma, to working with legislators to introduce legislation that would help young mothers succeed, we’ve been challenging the stigmatizing narratives that paint young mothers as irresponsible, hopeless, and drains on the state.

We’ve been telling legislators, colleagues, and advocates around the nation what Latina activists on the ground have known for a long time: that the circumstances of pregnancy and birth exist within a context of racial and socioeconomic inequity; that any conversation about teen pregnancy is incomplete without a conversation about access to the full range of reproductive health care for young people, including abortion; and that young women who choose to become mothers continue to be human, and deserve as much opportunity to lead fulfilling lives as women who delay their pregnancies or choose not to parent at all.

So it is with great excitement that we present our newest campaign: What’s the Real Problem?

So that you can take this work to your community, we’ve put together a toolkit for different ways to discuss this issue in your community, from film screenings to story collecting; and a very cool poster, which has some useful facts on the back, for you to put up as a conversation-starter and use as a reference. We’ve worked really hard on these materials and are super proud of them, and we hope you’ll find them useful and accessible (they’re bilingual). We think that with these materials, you can help us steer the conversation in the right direction, and get folks asking themselves what the real problem is when it comes to young motherhood.

Let us know what you think!

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In a key move toward prioritizing women’s health, the New York State Senate voted 61-0 to permit licensed professional midwives to practice independently.  Assembly Health Committee chair Richard N. Gottfried wrote the bill, A. 8117-B, which passed the Assembly on Monday, June 28 with a vote of 95-17.  Governor David Paterson signed the bill into law on July 31st.

Gottfried’s press release explains the implications of the new law:

Professional midwives have been licensed in New York State for decades. They provide prenatal care, deliveries, and primary gynecological care. However, they are required to have a “written practice agreement” with an obstetrician or a hospital that provides obstetric services. The bill would repeal the requirement for a written practice agreement.

Clearly, this bill represents a landmark victory for the midwives of New York State, who would no longer be forced to partner with an obstetrician or a hospital or scramble to create a new partnership when hospitals that partner with midwives close down.  Gottfried goes on to describe the benefits for pregnant women:

This is a major victory for women’s health. The 1,300 licensed midwives in New York perform about 15% of the non-Caesarean deliveries, with exceptionally high rates of successful outcomes and patient satisfaction,” Gottfried said. “The written practice agreement is an unnecessary restriction that blocks many midwives from serving the community.

This bill is a step forward in allowing pregnant women to access the full gamut of reproductive services.  This is especially important for women in rural communities throughout the state, where it can be difficult to find physicians who are willing to sign an agreement with a midwife.

I applaud the NYS Legislature and Governor Paterson for helping advance the cause of women’s reproductive freedom.

By Nicole Catá, Policy Intern

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By Rita Martinez, Development and Communications Intern

I recently read a blog post at RH Reality Check about the reproductive health threats that toxic chemicals pose for women’s health.

Spurred by the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill controversy, this post strikes an interesting point. This disaster is not the first time that communities in the Gulf have had their environment threatened by corporate practices.

Kimberly Inez McGuire recaps the environmental injustices that have plagued the Gulf region for quite some time:

For decades, industrial waste and contamination in the Gulf states have been recognized for their role in causing health problems ranging from cancer to asthma. Residents have tested positive for exposure to some of the worst reproductive toxicants—chemicals that have been linked to infertility, miscarriage, low birth weight, low sperm count, and developmental and respiratory disorders for children exposed in utero.

This is a tragic reality for long-time residents, many of whom are primarily African American and Latino. Clearly, this is a case of environmental racism, whereby the environment of low-income and/or communities of color are disproportionally targeted for the location of polluting industries that expose them to much higher levels of toxic chemicals over their more affluent (and often White) counterparts.

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NLIRH is excited to announce the Spanish-language versions of our latest reports – Advancing Reproductive Justice in Immigrant Communities: Promotoras/es de Salud as a Model,  and Removing Stigma: Towards a Complete Understanding of Young Latinas’ Sexual Health

Advancing Reproductive Justice in Immigrant Communities: Promotoras/es de Salud as a Model highlights NLIRH’s work with promotoras/es de salud (community health workers) and the connection between promotoras/es and reproductive justice as an opportunity for movement building and social change.

Removing Stigma: Towards a Complete Understanding of Young Latinas’ Sexual Health reviews recent research on adolescent sexuality and reproductive health, sets forth a reproductive justice framework for advancing the sexual health of Latina adolescents, and lays out policy approaches to ensure that communities in which healthy decisions about sexuality and reproduction are supported and available to adolescents.

Take a look at the Spanish-language versions below!

Promoviendo la justicia reproductiva en las comunidades inmigrantes: El modelo de las(os) Promotoras(es) de Salud

Deshaciendo estigma: Hacia una comprensión completa de la salud sexual de las jóvenes latinas

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Veronica Bayetti Flores, our Senior Policy Analyst, published this great article about young motherhood in the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Newsletter.

An excerpt:

…The current discourse surrounding young motherhood is both stigmatizing and insensitive, and presents young motherhood as a problem in itself as opposed to the real problems that often surround it, such as poverty and lack of access. Though many young women who become young mothers do not plan their pregnancies, many other young mothers do plan their pregnancies, and these decisions must be both respected and supported. Women of all ages become mothers for many reasons, and it is not the business of the state or anyone else to attempt to control anyone’s fertility, regardless of their age.

As a reproductive health organization, we support many of the policies that are put in place to “address teen pregnancy”: comprehensive sexuality education, increased affordability and access to contraception, and the expansion of public programs that address reproductive health, such as Title X and Medicaid, are a few examples of these policies. However, we support these policies as part of a platform to increase women’s ability to make informed choices that are relevant to their lives, and not as an attempt for the state to control young women’s fertility.

Read the rest here.

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Earlier this month, Save the Children’s 11th Annual State of the World’s Mothers Report was released.

The United States did not make the top 10 countries on the list, nor did it land in the top 25. The US was ranked 28th, below most of Western Europe. The authors cite a 1 in 4800 maternal mortality rate (one of the highest in the developed world), as a key factor for our deplorable ranking. The report states that:

a child in the U.S. more than twice as likely as a child in Finland, Iceland, Sweden or Singapore to die before his or her fifth birthday.

The United States continues to neglect mothers by having the “least generous maternity leave policy – both in terms of duration and percent of wages paid – of any wealthy nation.”

So, what can be done to bridge this gap? The report notes that governments “need to increase funding to improve education levels for women and girls, provide access to maternal and child health care and advance women’s economic opportunities.”

Although I applaud the Obama administration for passing a health care reform bill that will allocate $11 billion in new funding to community health centers, in addition to other protections for mothers, an important population was entirely left out of the legislation: undocumented immigrants. Any improvement seen in the conditions for mothers will be lost on this population if we don’t include them in our legislative efforts.

The United States needs to step their game up by giving the mothers and children of our country the adequate care and services they obviously and so desperately need.

By Krystal Chan, Development and Communications Intern

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An article published online last week in the journal Pediatrics suggests that $13 billion and over 900 infants’ lives could be saved if 90% of infants were breastfed exclusively for six months.

According to the most recent recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), breastfeeding is beneficial to the health of both the mother and child. It may decrease rates of ovarian and breast cancer among women and bone-related injuries and diseases. The AAP recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for six months, and non-exclusively breastfed for the first year and beyond as desired.

In this study, the authors undergo a cost analysis using data from previous studies. They calculated the approximate number of infants that are breastfed and the number that are not exclusively breastfed using data from a 2005 CDC survey. Then, they looked at a collection of diseases for which a lower risk has been reported for exclusively breastfed infants and the associated health costs for those diseases. The study did not look at every disease associated with breastfeeding, and in particular left out type 2 diabetes because of insufficient data. The overall conclusion shows that the US incurs billions of dollars in excess costs due to the

At the end of the day, breastfeeding is a lifestyle choice. However, given its health benefits, it should be a more accessible option for women who do prefer to breastfeed their children. Not every mother-child pair is capable of breastfeeding, but those that are should be able to do so without excessive inconvenience. Today, many women are unable to breastfeed their infants due to inadequate maternity leave, inability to take time off of work, and insufficient access to counseling about lactation. Additionally, healthcare providers often fail to inform women about the benefits of breastfeeding, and are unable to give women practical advice regarding breastfeeding.

Increasing support services for breastfeeding could save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars, which could be directed towards saving additional lives.

By Zarah Iqbal, Policy Intern

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By Zarah Iqbal, Policy Intern

A report published by Amnesty International this month describes the dire situation of maternal health in the United States. According to this report, approximately half of the maternal deaths that occur in the US are easily preventable by access to quality maternal health care. This report goes hand in hand with the New York times report of the extremely high rates of cesarean section and induction of labor.

Some key facts from the Amnesty report:

  • Maternal mortality rate in the US has more than doubled in the period between 1987 and 2006;
  • Women in the US have a higher risk of dying from pregnancy related causes than women in 40 other countries, despite the fact that the US spends more on health care than any other country in the world;
  • African-American women are almost four times as likely as white women in the US to die of pregnancy-related complications.

In order to lower the risk of maternal deaths, women need access to quality prenatal care, care during delivery, and postpartum care. There are many barriers to accessing quality care. The first is the overwhelming number of Americans who are uninsured. Many women are unable to take time off from work, find transportation, or find childcare. Additionally, immigrant women are often unable to find healthcare services or information in languages other than English. (more…)

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A recent study led by researchers at UC Davis explores the association between intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy. The study shows that young women often face efforts by their partners to coerce pregnancy or destroy contraception, and that these attempts at reproductive control are associated with other forms of intimate partner violence, increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy.

In this study, “Pregnancy coercion, intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy,” published in the January issue of Contraception, researchers surveyed over 1300 English and Spanish-speaking women ages 16-29 who were seeking care at five family planning clinics in California. Researchers divided “reproductive control” into two broad areas: pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage. The results showed that an astounding number of surveyed women had experienced either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage.

Approximately a third (35%, 237/683) of women reporting partner violence also reported either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage, in contrast to only 15% (91/595) of those who never reported violence reporting reproductive control of either form….The combined effect of both partner violence and reproductive control increased the odds of unintended pregnancy almost two-fold.

While many pregnancy prevention efforts place the responsibility for unintended pregnancy on women, especially among teenagers, this study shows that these efforts are not only wrong, but dangerous. They ignore the possible role of of abusive partners in pregnancy.

It also contradicts the popular notion that men are the sole victims of contraceptive sabotage. We often hear stories of women deliberately missing their pill or lying about using contraception entirely to coerce their partner into a more serious relationship due to pregnancy. Less commonly known or discussed is the fact that men also participate in birth control sabotage to manipulate their partners.

The authors suggest a possible step forward: intervention programs provided by family planning clinics and harm reduction services for women affected by partner violence. Family planning clinics could be a great resource for women suffering domestic abuse if programs such as counseling services are offered.

This study shows how important it is for all women to have access to emergency contraception, and a choice of contraceptive methods. Some women need injectable or intrauterine methods so that their partners cannot see or tamper with their contraception. The study also stresses the importance of confidentiality in reproductive health care, so that women can exercise their right to reproductive health without fearing coercion from their partners.

By Zarah Iqbal, Policy Intern

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