Bringing up baby
Prenatal think-tank workers from across the North

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 23/98) - Though pregnant women are growing more aware of the dangers alcohol can pose for their baby, some health-care workers are still worried about other prenatal care issues including nutrition.

Earlier this month a territorial-wide conference was held in Yellowknife to offer community health workers a chance to share their insights on the important issues now facing mothers across the North.

"Breastfed babies are healthier and that is shown through studies and lots of research," said Lethbridge, Alberta nurse Jacki Glover said at the conference.

"Formula-fed babies have been shown to have 10 times the number of ear infections. And that affects hearing, speech and then how they can learn."

Clara Frost, a mother of two in Inuvik, agrees.

Frost breastfed her first child and said she found Cyrus, now 3, grew faster and learned quickly. She breastfed her current nine-month-old infant Clarissa until about a month ago, when Clara went back to work.

While breastfeeding, Frost said she was very careful about her own eating habits, getting foods from four major food groups: fruits and vegetables; milk and dairy products; meat and alternatives; and breads and cereals.

"Before I had kids I drank because I was still young," the 23-year-old mother says. "Once I knew I was pregnant I stopped."

That message is starting to hit home with many mothers, although Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and its milder version, Fetal Alcohol Effect, are still causing problems in many communities.

Babies with the syndrome show smaller head size and a slighter, smaller build. Eyes are often smaller, the nose bone is lower down and the skin under the nose, known as the philtrum, lacks ripples.

FAS and FAE babies learn, walk and talk slowly and can quickly forget what they learn.

"They tend to be very floppy," said Stanton Regional Hospital paediatrician Dr. Nicole Chatel. "They can also be jittery and poor at sucking."

Meanwhile, there are unpredictable and more obscure dangers mothers still might be wise to guard against, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

SIDS is not hereditary and occurs when a thorough investigation shows a baby has died for no known reason.

"There was a case this year to a single mother," said Fort Good Hope community health worker Henry Tobac.

Chatel said that to guard against SIDS, mothers could put their babies on their backs, keep the house at not too high a temperature and not smoke.

"Smoking can cause a number of respiratory problems," she said. "And the number of SIDS deaths in the North is above that of the South."