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They've Come a Long Way : Parenting: Inglewood Healthy Mothers and Babies program, now 1 year old, has helped about 300 women, twice the number anticipated.


This was no ordinary first birthday party.

There was the traditional frosted cake, of course. Pink-and-blue balloons bobbed at every table, and a grinning clown worked the crowd.

But the party's honorees were more than a dozen babies, all under the age of 1, clutching bottles or dozing peacefully on their mothers' laps.

These were the first infants born under the auspices of Inglewood Healthy Mothers and Babies, a program launched last September to improve prenatal care for African-American women in the Inglewood area.

The celebration at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood marked the first anniversary of the fast-growing program, which was launched with funding from the James Irvine Foundation. More than a dozen mothers showed up, proudly toting babies that the program had aided both before and after birth.

"I loved the program. It helped me out a lot, because I wasn't sure what to do. . . . I wasn't taking care of myself the way I should have," said Elinor Johnson, 27, of Los Angeles, who brought along 7-month-old Brianna.

Johnson praised the program's employees for helping her through a trying pregnancy. "Without them, I don't think I would have had a healthy baby at all," she said. "I think I would have been a nervous wreck."

Other mothers at the party voiced similar sentiments. Indeed, the Inglewood program already has helped about 300 women, almost double the number that organizers expected. The women received education, counseling and other assistance.

"It really has been overwhelming. The response has been tremendous," said Zola Jones, project director for Great Beginnings for Black Babies, the umbrella organization that oversees the Inglewood project.

Jones describes how she started with one public health nurse in October, added a second in November and two more this summer. Now she plans to bring in a social worker and an outreach worker.

"I thought (there) would be a gradual increase in clients," Jones said. "But it just seemed like all of a sudden we were getting many women who were interested in receiving care."

Great Beginnings for Black Babies is a 3-year-old campaign aimed at black women of child-bearing age in south, southeast and southwest Los Angeles, as well as Inglewood, Compton, Pasadena and Long Beach.

The campaign was launched by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and other agencies in response to findings that infant mortality and low birth weight are more common among African-American babies than those of other races.

The 1991 infant mortality rate for black babies in the county, for instance, was 15 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 8.7 for Anglo babies, 6.7 for Latino babies and 4.9 for Asian/Pacific Islander babies, according to the county.

So Great Beginnings uses advertising, pamphlets and other means to educate black women about the importance of prenatal care. The Inglewood program takes that effort a step farther by providing one-to-one counseling for pregnant women.

African-Americans accounted for 200 of the 240 women helped by the program between last October and this June. Clients also included women of Anglo and Latino heritage, usually those married to an African-American male.

About two-thirds of the women had received no previous prenatal care, usually because they lacked the money to pay for it, said Kathy Lang, a Great Beginnings case manager.

"The major issue is that they don't have a source of payment," Lang said. Moreover, "A lot of women aren't sure of the first signs and symptoms of pregnancy."

Program workers like to start seeing the women "as soon as they have the first inkling that they're pregnant," Lang said.

Elinor Johnson, however, was six months pregnant when she discovered the program. She had been experiencing nausea and heartburn, symptoms that Lang suggested could be aggravated by her diet. She advised Johnson to avoid greasy foods and sodas.

Lang also provided advice about some family problems, Johnson said. "I consider her a sister, because she stood right there at my side," she said.

Mothers said they continued getting help after their babies were born. When Rose Carr of Inglewood told a program employee that her infant son was tugging at his ear, she was advised to see a doctor, who discovered he had an ear infection.

Said LaMonica Williams, 27, of Los Angeles, whose son, Evan, is now 6 months old: "If you needed help on anything, they helped you out."

Uneven Start Infant Mortality

By race, infant mortality rates in Los Angeles County are consistently highest among blacks. Chart shows deaths per 1,000 live births in the county.

Asian/ Pacific Black Anglo Latino Islander All Groups 1988 18.5 10.7 7.0 5.7 9.3 1989 19.4 9.8 7.3 5.8 9.3 1990 14.4 9.3 6.9 4.2 8.0 1991 15.0 8.7 6.7 4.9 7.8

Low Birth Weight

Blacks account for a disproportionate share of babies with low birth weight in Los Angeles County. Chart shows the percentage of low birth weight babies according to the race or ethnicity of the mother.

Asian/ Pacific Black Anglo Latino Islander All Groups 1988 14.0 5.4 5.2 6.1 6.4 1989 13.7 5.4 5.5 5.8 6.5 1990 13.1 5.2 5.2 5.7 6.1 1991 13.1 5.3 5.2 6.1 6.1

Source: Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, Data Collection and Analysis Unit

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