Science & Research

Dr. Maureen Heaman

BY JOEL SCHLESINGER
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012

Dr. Maureen Heaman began her career as a maternal health nurse in 1978.

And maternal health has come a long way since the late 1970s, says Heaman, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Chair in Gender and Health. But for Winnipeg's lowest-income mothers, there's still a long way to go.

That's the focus of Heaman's most recent research: finding new ways to help at-risk, expectant and new mothers - and their newborns - get the health care they need.

"What we have found is there were high rates of inadequate care in Inkster, Downtown and Point Douglas, which are essentially the inner city areas of Winnipeg," says the professor at the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Nursing.

Young mothers - teens in many cases - with low incomes were most at risk, her research found. Typically during a healthy pregnancy, mothers have between 12 to 14 health-care visits during their pregnancy, but mothers in the inner city, among the at-risk group, often had four or fewer visits. And many didn't seek medical attention until the final stages of their pregnancy.

There is a reason why these women failed to seek care, and it's not because they wanted to have an unhealthy baby. Like all mothers, most cared about getting the best care possible, but they encountered several barriers preventing them from doing so. "If you're a young, single, pregnant mom - already with kids - getting to prenatal care in the middle of winter and then waiting awhile in the waiting room is a tall order," she says. Moreover, many mothers in the high-risk group did not recognize the importance of getting regular medical visits while pregnant.

To address the problem, Heaman is partnering with the Winnipeg Health Region and Healthy Child Manitoba, among others, to implement three new initiatives to improve access to prenatal care. One of these initiatives involves integrating midwives into six Healthy Baby/Healthy Start community-based prenatal programs in low-income neighbourhoods. She says it's all about meeting women where they live.

"It's about being proactive, and seeing that they get the care they need."

Wave: November / December 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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