One in 25 pregnant women were homeless in the year prior to delivery — most of whom were black — according to new CDC data.
Published in the current issue of Pediatrics, the study raises concerns about the health of these women and their unborn children.
Babies born to the homeless or recently homeless women had lower birth weights, and longer, more complicated hospital stays. Particularly, when the women smoked or consumed alcohol.
The women surveyed were more likely to be young, black, unmarried, uninsured, and less educated. They were also less likely to breastfeed or have prenatal care.
“If [homeless women] don’t even have a home and they’re worried about where they’re going to live and thinking about everything else, then health care may not be the top priority,” said Rickelle Richards, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science at Brigham Young University.
Richards and her team highlighted gaps in the resources available to homeless women overall, and particularly, pregnant women.
Special needs for special moms
The crisis center at Covenant House — a facility that services homeless youth in Washington, D.C. — is currently at full capacity.
“One of our main programs is our crisis center and it’s a 44-bed facility here in South East D.C. and one of the main goals at the crisis center is to help our youth transition to self-sufficiency,” said Carletta Mack, director of external affairs at the Covenant House.
The center has housing for pregnant women and young mothers. The staff personalizes a strategy for each woman, identifying her unique needs. This includes an evaluation of her housing situation, education and financial situation, plus whether the mother has a form of health insurance.
“If we have a young, pregnant mother the priority is to ensure that they’re healthy and that they have what they need to get ready for the birth of their child. We also have an affiliation with Children’s Hospital and we refer them to their specialists who can provide services or help her find a doctor of her own.”
However, Richards feels that more still needs to be done to help homeless mothers.
“It’s definitely unique depending on where you’re at. I know in Utah here we don’t really have a specific family based shelter,” Richards said. “I hope that [the study] will provide an understanding of what women face especially if they don’t have a home base.”