Unhealthy North Staffordshire couples to get baby advice
WOMEN are to be bombarded with professional help to protect their unborn babies – before they become pregnant.
Counselling on ways to stop newborn babies falling ill will kick in before women and their partners have even considered starting a family.
GPs will identify couples most at risk of having sick infants and staff will show them how to lead healthier lifestyles before conceiving.
The initiative follows research showing the most healthy parents tend to have the healthiest babies.
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It will start in Newcastle next spring as part of a fresh drive to reduce the borough's infant death rate, which is higher than the national average.
Its new GP-led body, which is about to take over commissioning of health services, has vowed to make cutting infant deaths a top priorityin the next two years.
It has already earmarked an undisclosed sum for the work.
Sally Parkin, quality lead for the clinical commissioning group (CCG), said: "We are determined to get this right and are identifying all factors linked to infant mortality.
"We have looked at best practice across Britain to make sure there is evidence that these interventions have worked elsewhere.
"Some will be new services, such as pre-conception counselling for people at risk before they even think about having babies.
"Others will be existing ones we will enhance, such as smoking cessation support in the first year after birth. We want to address the whole pathway right from pre-conception, through pregnancy and well into infancy."
The CCG will use the most accurate data, available from GP practices, to target at-risk couples for special support.
Newcastle public health director Dr John Harvey said: "Smoking is the biggest cause, but there are others. Rates are coming down, but are still too high.
"Some deaths are unavoidable because of congenital abnormalities, being born before 22 weeks or accidents.
"The actual numbers are in single figures, making it hard to keep making reductions. A cut from four to three a year takes much effort, but we must do the right thing.
"Scandinavia has the lowest rate because of high expectations and access to high quality services. We should learn lessons from those countries."
Newcastle health scrutiny committee member Hilda Johnson said: "I knew of a woman who smoked when pregnant and when her baby was two weeks she and her husband were both smoking round the house. Babies need a smoke-free atmosphere."