How to Help Stressed-Out, Vulnerable Pregnant Women During the Pandemic

There's the MCH handbook. For husbands, just listen.
Photo/s: Freestocks via Unsplash

Their stressors amplified by the pandemic and access to health care hampered by quarantines, pregnant women need all the help they can get. One way to to address this is through the pictoral and easy to use "baby book" or Maternal and Child Health Handbook, advocates said.

Crown Princess Akishino of Japan opened a global webinar late Thursday in Manila, vouching for the MCH Handbook as a "valuable step forward in providing support for vulnerable pregnant women and their partners." She is known advocate of maternal and child health.

"MCH Handbooks have been playing a very important role for pregnant women and nursing mothers, children and their families," the princess said. One of the convenors of the International Committee on the MCH Handbook, Yasuhide Nakamura, is her compatriot.

Japan's Princess Akishino endorses the Maternal and Child Health Handbook during a global webinar on May 27, 2021. International Committee on the MCH Handbook/YouTube
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Pregnant women are more likely to feel stressed during the pandemic, Akishino said. For husbands and family members in the household, helping out "starts with listening," she said.

"Understanding from their partners is important, but is is not easy," she said.

Some 500 participants from over two dozen countries joined the webinar, the second in a four-part series. It was forced to shift online after the pandemic cancelled its physical stagin in Amsterdam in 2020. Thursday's lecture focused on reaching out to pregnant women under stress with speakers from Peru, Afghanistan and Laos.


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What is the MCH Handbook?

An easy to read guide filled with pictures and language that is nuanced to the prevailing culture, the MCH Handbook is a "global standard tool" to improve maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health, according to the international committee.

"The MCH Handbook should be seen as one of the most important benefit packages that the government provides for all mothers and children through community health services, health facilities and responsible organizations," the group said in their Bangkok Declaration in 2018.

Part of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals is the reduction of the global mortality rate to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030. The UN seeks to end all preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years old.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte signed in late 2018 the "Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act," which seeks to provide health and nutrition services to mothers and children during the first 1,000 days of life.

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Stress and pregnancy

Stress during pregnancy can range from positive, tolerable to toxic. Stressed out mothers will likely give birth to babies that are more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes and other non-communicable disases, according to the webinar synthesis. It also alters the brain development of unborn children.

Stress during pregnancy can trigger anxiety and depression, among many mental health challenges. The MCH handbook connects pregnant women not just to support systems, but to their babies as well.

"It is very important strong parent-child relationship, it is crucial to development," said Dr. Calvin de los Reyes, board member representing the Philippines at the International Committee on the MCH Handbook.

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