Improving the health and well-being of women at risk for neural tube defect recurrence

Tasneem Husain, The University of Texas School of Public Health


There is growing interest in providing women with internatal care, a package of healthcare and ancillary services that can improve their health during the period after the termination of one pregnancy but before the conception of the next pregnancy. Women who have had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect can especially benefit from internatal care because they are at increased risk for recurrence and improvements to their health during the inter-pregnancy period can prevent future negative birth outcomes. The dissertation provides three papers that inform the content of internatal care for women at risk for recurrence by examining descriptive epidemiology to develop an accurate risk profile of the population, assessing whether women at risk for recurrence would benefit from a psychosocial intervention, and determining how to improve health promotion efforts targeting folic acid use. Paper one identifies information relevant for developing risk profiles and conducting risk assessments. A number of investigations have found that the risk for neural tube defects differs between non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanics. To understand the risk difference, the descriptive epidemiology of spina bifida and anencephaly was examined for Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites based on data from the Texas Birth Defects Registry for the years 1999 through 2004. Crude and adjusted birth prevalence ratios and corresponding 95% confidence intervals were calculated between descriptive epidemiologic characteristics and anencephaly and spina bifida for non-Hispanic Whites and for Hispanics. In both race/ethnic groups, anencephaly expressed an inverse relationship with maternal age and a positive linear relationship with parity. Both relationships were stronger in non-Hispanic Whites. Female infants had a higher risk for anencephaly in non-Hispanic Whites. Lower maternal education was associated with increased risk for spina bifida in Hispanics. Paper two assesses the need for a psychosocial intervention. For mothers who have children with spina bifida, the transition to motherhood can be stressful. This qualitative study explored the process of becoming a mother to a child with spina bifida focusing particularly on stress and coping in the immediate postnatal environment. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six mothers who have children with spina bifida. Mothers were asked about their initial emotional and problem-based coping efforts, the quality and kind of support provided by health providers, and the characteristics of their meaning-based coping efforts; questions matched Transactional Model of Stress and Coping (TMSC) constructs. Analysis of the responses revealed a number of modifiable stress and coping transactions, the most salient being: health providers are in a position to address beliefs about self-causality and prevent mothers from experiencing the repercussions that stem from maintaining these beliefs. Paper three identifies considerations when creating health promotion materials targeting folic acid use. A brochure was designed using concepts from the Precaution Adoption Process Model (PAPM). Three focus groups comprising 26 mothers of children with spina bifida evaluated the brochure. One focus group was conducted in Spanish-only, the other two focus groups were conducted in English and Spanish combined. Qualitative analysis of coded transcripts revealed that a brochure is a helpful adjunct. Questions about folic acid support the inclusion of an insert with basic information. There may be a need to develop different educational material for Hispanics so the importance of folic acid is provided in a situational context. Some participants blamed themselves for their pregnancy outcome which may affect their receptivity to messages in the brochure. The women's desire for photographs that affect their perception of threat and their identification with the second role model indicate they belong to PAPM Stage 2 and 3. Participants preferred colorful envelopes, high quality paper, intimidating photographs, simple words, conversational style sentences, and positive messages. These papers develop the content of risk assessment, psychosocial intervention, and health promotion components of internatal care as they apply to women at risk for recurrence. The findings provided evidence for considering parity and maternal age when assessing nutritional risk. The two dissimilarities between the two race/ethnic groups, infant sex and maternal education lent support to creating separate risk profiles. Interviews with mothers of children with spina bifida revealed the existence of unmet needs-suggesting that a psychosocial intervention provided as part of internatal care can strengthen and support women's well-being. Segmenting the audience according to race/ethnicity and PAPM stage can improve the relevance of print materials promoting folic acid use.

Subject Area

Nutrition|Public health|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

Husain, Tasneem, "Improving the health and well-being of women at risk for neural tube defect recurrence" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3350061.