Extra help wanted for low delivery weight infants, pregnant mums with diabetes, maternal psychological well being: Masagos, Well being Information & High Tales

SINGAPORE – Couples with low birth weight babies and pregnant women with gestational diabetes need more support, and more can also be done to ensure the mental health and well-being of mothers, said Second Health Minister Masagos Zulkifli on Monday (June 7) . .

That extra support will provide the kids here with a better environment to grow up in, as the first few years – and especially the first 1,000 days – are critical for the child to build a strong foundation, he said.

Mr Masagos, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, highlighted these three key areas where more can be done during a speech at the third Temasek Shophouse Conversations forum, which focused on maternal and child wellbeing.

Around 600 participants from the public, private and municipal sectors took part in the virtual event, which was organized by the Temasek Foundation in cooperation with the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).

Mr Masagos said Singapore has achieved good international rankings for life expectancy and the lowest child mortality rates.

“We can do more in some areas: go further upstream where we can, focus our resources on specific development paths that deserve more attention,” he said.

He found that one in ten babies in Singapore are born with low birth weights and are therefore at a higher risk of developing physical and mental health problems such as obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder later in life.

Maternal malnutrition and health issues, mother’s age and premature birth are key factors that contribute to low birth weight, he said.

Fortunately, many of these can be addressed if we support couples before conception. (This is) a good opportunity for social and health integration, ”said Mr Masagos.

The Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (Gusto) study also found that one in five pregnant women is at risk of developing gestational diabetes (GDM).

Gusto is a longitudinal study started here in 2009 to examine how pregnancy and early childhood diseases affect the health and development of women and their children.

Pregnancy diabetes, also known as gestational diabetes, is a condition of abnormal or elevated glucose levels during pregnancy.

Mothers and their children are then at higher risk of metabolic disorders and children are at higher risk of developing obesity.

With this in mind, KKH initiated the Temasek Foundation’s GDM Care Program to better care for mothers with GDM, said Mr Masagos.

“But we shouldn’t just see this as a medical problem. This is an area where society as a whole is stressful,” he added.

Health and social services agencies can work with community organizations to develop programs to address risk factors for GDM, such as through physical activity and promoting a nutritious diet.

The Gusto study also found that maternal depression during pregnancy affects the development of the fetus’ brain microstructure, which could lead to anxiety and mood disorders later in the child’s life.

So it is important to strengthen social support for mothers and expectant mothers and everyone can contribute, said Mr Masagos.

For example, health care workers actively look for symptoms of low mood and depression during maternal and expectant mothers screenings, while social services and community groups can also keep an eye out for such symptoms.

In the workplace, employees and colleagues who are pregnant or returning to work after maternity leave can be offered more psychological and emotional support, for example through more flexible work arrangements.

“At home and in the community, we can support our spouses, friends, relatives and neighbors who are pregnant and may be suffering from psycho-emotional stress,” Masagos said.

He also provided information about the inter-agency task force that aims to promote maternal health and the well-being of children. The formation of the task force was announced in the context of the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Health earlier this year.

The task force is developing a five-year strategy for comprehensive care for women and their children from before conception until the child is 18 years old.

Mr. Masagos outlined the Task Force’s plans.

First, the task force will translate evidence-based findings into policies and programs to address upstream risk factors. This includes the review of upstream preventive health measures for women and children or the investigation of how young couples can be better prepared and equipped for parenthood.

Second, the government and the authorities involved are reviewing their service delivery processes and will examine how health authorities can strengthen cooperation with social and educational sector organizations.

Third, the Task Force will use public education to raise awareness and engagement to shape positive behaviors.

Mr. Masagos said: “If we (children) want to have the best start in life, our support must also extend to the mother … It makes sense that our entire society invests in this cause because it benefits everyone. “

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