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Healthy babies: Not just a 9-month matter

Robin Stanton and Lari Peterson
Nutrition consultant Robin Stanton and perinatal nurse Lari Peterson focus on nutrition as one of many steps toward lifelong health for moms and their babies.

June 17 - Giving a newborn and its mom the best chance of good health takes more than a nine-month span of attention, public health experts say. A more holistic strategy for fetal development that takes into account all aspects of the mother's health before, during and after her pregnancy can improve lifelong health while reducing health care costs.

That means targeting lifelong preventive strategies against a variety of factors that can raise a woman's risk of problems in a pregnancy - including poor nutrition, smoking, physical abuse, emotional stress, teenage conception, short intervals between pregnancies and abuse of alcohol or other drugs.

The cost of missed opportunities can be staggering, says Robin Stanton, a nutrition consultant with the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division.

Neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are one of the most expensive parts of a hospital. A stay in the NICU costs between $1500 to $22,000 per day, not counting charges for respirators, drugs and lab tests.

"Neonatal intensive care units cost billions of dollars," Stanton says. "And these costs don't stop when the child leaves the hospital."