By Samantha Joseph
MARTIN COUNTY -- A push to increase the number of residents getting prenatal care in the first three months of pregnancy has reduced the number of deaths among newborns, according to a recent report by the Florida Health Department.
In the last seven years, area women have been seeking medical care earlier in their pregnancies, a move that officials said bodes well for local babies, said Scott Berry, executive director of Martin County Healthy Start Coalition, a nonprofit that offers support and education for pregnant women and infants.
"The later women get into prenatal care, the higher the risk of low birth weights," Mr. Berry said. "Lower birth weights mean higher risk of dying in the first year of life."
In 2005, Martin County had one of the poorest showings in the state, ranking among the worst counties when it came to the survival rate of its newborns, Mr. Berry added. That year, it ranked 47th out of 67 counties for its infant mortality rate, which measures the number of babies who make it to their first birthday.
But 2011 saw the county move to one of the top in the state, with the eighth-lowest infant mortality rate, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Out of 1,200 births, five babies died in 2011, compared to 11 in 2005, the report showed.
"As the percentage of mothers who are getting into care early increases, so does the percentage of babies born at a healthy birth weight," Mr. Berry said. "And as the percentage of babies born at low birth weight decreases, the infant mortality rate has decreased, as well. You have to have good prenatal care in the community."
Healthy Start Coalition worked to achieve this goal by encouraging pregnant women to seek early care. Since its inception in 1992, the group has worked with more than 19,000 expectant mothers throughout the county, said Evelyn Lespinasse, a marketing representative for the organization.
Last year alone, the group served 1,331 clients. Administrators said mothers are getting the message about the importance of care in the first trimester to mitigate pregnancy risks.
Also in 2011, about 72 percent of pregnant women in Martin County received medical care within the first three months of pregnancy, compared to 56 percent in 2005, the lowest rate in the state at that time.
"Our performance has dramatically improved," Mr. Berry said.
For more information about Martin County Healthy Start Coalition, call (772) 463-2141 or visit www.mchealthystart.org.