Home visits may cut risk of low birthweight

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A program that offers home visits to low- income pregnant women may lower their risk of delivering an underweight baby, according to a study published Tuesday.

Researchers found that women who received home-visitation services from the program, called Healthy Families New York, were about half as likely to deliver a low-birthweight baby as a comparison group that did not have home visits.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggest that home visits could be one way to curb the problem of low birthweight, which raises the risk of newborn health problems.

HFNY is based on a national program, Healthy Families America, that offers home visits to low-income pregnant women at risk for complications during pregnancy and birth.

Home visitors are trained laypeople from the same community and ethnic background as their clients. They help pregnant women get access to a doctor and social services when necessary. They also talk to them about nutrition and healthy behaviors during pregnancy, cutting out risky behaviors, reducing stress and getting psychologically prepared for motherhood.

For the current study, researchers followed 501 women who were randomly assigned to one of two groups — one that received HFNY home visits, and one that received information on other services, but not home visitation.

Overall, the study found, 5 percent of women in the home-visitation group delivered a low-birthweight baby, versus 10 percent of those in the comparison group.

The program appeared to help black and Hispanic women in particular, with no clear difference found between white women who did or did not receive home visits.

“It appears that home visitors from the Healthy Families New York helped these mothers to achieve a healthy pregnancy experience on multiple fronts,” researcher Dr. Eunju Lee, of the State University of New York at Albany, told Reuters Health.

The study found that home visitors helped connect some women with a primary care provider, Lee noted. She said she and her colleagues also suspect that other benefits — like reduced stress and help with obtaining social services like the federal nutrition program WIC — helped prevent some cases of low birthweight.

SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, February 2009.

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