Improving the health of pregnant women and new mothers is a top priority for University of Queensland researcher Dr Yvette Miller.
Dr Miller, from UQ’s School of Psychology, has been instrumental in the establishment of Caboolture Mums and Little Ones, a community-based health promotion project, funded through Queensland Health.
“We wanted to develop and test some new and innovative strategies to improve pregnancy and postnatal health in disadvantaged communities,” Dr Miller said.
“Caboolture was chosen to represent disadvantaged communities more broadly because of its relative socio-economic disadvantage.
“Caboolture is also characterised by poor maternal and infant health outcomes relative to the rest of Australia and Queensland.”
Since early 2007, Dr Miller, and the team of professionals involved, have used Caboolture Mums and Little Ones to promote healthy eating habits, breastfeeding, physical activity and antenatal care.
Telephone interviews with around 800 women – pregnant and postnatal – revealed that this type of support service was necessary.
“Most pregnant women reported unhealthy levels of physical activity and daily intake of fruit and vegetables, and almost a quarter smoked,” Dr Miller said.
“Smoking during pregnancy was significantly associated with younger age, no private health insurance, and lower income and education.
“Remarkably, given what we know from clinical trials that demonstrate the importance of these pregnancy behaviours for maternal and infant health, we have not, up until now, had any population-level data for either fruit and vegetable intake or physical activity in pregnant women.”
Caboolture Mums and Little Ones is a collaborative initiative involving UQ, Redcliffe-Caboolture Health Service District, The Redcliffe-Bribie-Caboolture Division of General Practice, Community Renewal Program, Department of Housing, Queensland University of Technology, Caboolture Shire Council and The Heart Foundation.
Currently, Dr Miller is analysing how each pregnancy health behaviour – smoking, diet, physical activity, and antenatal care – impacts on both maternal and infant health outcomes.
“We are able to do this by linking data from the statewide perinatal outcomes systematically recorded by Queensland Health with the individual data that we have collected from about 800 pregnant women,” Dr Miller said.
“Up until now, all the research has been on the specific effect of one of these behaviours with health outcomes, so we haven’t been able to tell which behaviours we should be prioritising to maximise health benefits for women and babies.
“These findings demonstrate the need for reorienting pregnancy and postnatal care and considerable room for improvement in promoting preventative health behaviours to maximise maternal and infant health outcomes.”
Dr Miller will present the findings of this research at The Society for Reproductive and Infant Psychology Conference in London in September.
(Source: The Society for Reproductive and Infant Psychology Conference: University of Queensland: September 2008)