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An expectant mother, just weeks from her due date, was having difficulty getting to her prenatal appointments. She needed specialized care for her high-risk pregnancy but couldn’t afford gas for her car. As a result, she was missing these critical weekly appointments with her obstetrician.

A pregnancy with prenatal care is more likely to have a better outcome than one that does not receive prenatal care. Early care can treat many problems and prevent others. Support is vital for the parent’s health and that of their unborn baby.

Too many pregnant people struggle with unmet health-related social needs, which create barriers to care. Connecting them with prenatal care and resources tailored to their unique circumstance is critical to positive maternal and infant outcomes.

In 2020, 1 in 10 babies was born too early in the United States. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of death or complex medical conditions. Racial and ethnic inequities persist: The rate of premature births among non-Hispanic Black women was about 50% higher than that of non-Hispanic white women or Hispanic women.

To reduce premature births, we need to broaden our view of health and address physical, behavioral, and social drivers preventing people from receiving the vital care and services they need.

When finances and transportation became obstacles for this expectant mother, she turned to Open Table. This nonprofit organization trains community-based partners to access and coordinate their social networks through organized teams of community volunteers to leverage their personal and professional expertise and connections. Collectively, they help people with complex needs navigate social drivers of health such as poverty, isolation, transportation, and other barriers.

We know addressing whole health requires removing silos, working across systems, and building relationships. Community participation, personalized support systems, and cultural humility can significantly influence maternal and infant health outcomes.

That personalized approach made the difference for this expectant mother. An Open Table volunteer in her network connected her to a pastor who regularly drives people to medical appointments. She now makes it to all her prenatal appointments, and the pastor has become part of her social network and can connect her to resources for long-term support.

More pregnant women can now benefit from social networking programs. A partnership between Open Table and Moms2B aims to reduce premature births in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio for non-Hispanic Black women, where premature birth is a leading cause of infant mortality. With a three-year, $375,000 grant from the Elevance Health Foundation, the partnership will expand programs focused on reducing premature birth rates among 400 expectant mothers — part of an up to $30 million commitment from the Foundation to address maternal health with the potential to impact more than 100,000 women.

Putting a whole health lens on the multi-faceted challenges experienced during pregnancy can help ensure full-term, healthy babies.

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