FREDERICTON (GNB) – A new provincial program that aims to improve care for expectant mothers and babies is being launched.

Health Minister Hugh Flemming made the announcement in the legislative assembly today.

The New Brunswick Perinatal Health Program will gather information on births and maternal and newborn health such as the frequency of caesarian sections as compared to vaginal deliveries, neo-natal intensive care admission rates and prenatal screening tests. The information will be analyzed and used to develop standardized guidelines for maternal and newborn health care across the province.

“Expectant mothers and newborns are already receiving excellent care in the province's hospitals but at present, each hospital is responsible for developing its own prenatal and newborn care programs,” said Flemming. “This new program will support a more consistent approach to maternal and newborn care no matter where you live in the province. It will also provide the data required to evaluate areas for improvement and will allow us to better compare ourselves to other provinces.”

Particular areas of interest are caesarian section rates and neo-natal intensive care admission rates. The World Health Organization suggests that caesarian sections should be used in no more than five to 15 per cent of all births. Caesarian section rates have been increasing in New Brunswick and are now at 28 per cent.

Neo-natal intensive care admission rates are not currently being reported by every hospital in the province and there is no standard criteria for admission. The program will provide an opportunity to better understand the rates of birth defects and other complications that impact the health of newborns so that strategies can be developed to address these areas.

“I thank Dr. Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck, Dr. Frank Sanderson, Dr. Kim Butt, the New Brunswick Medical Society, the Nurses Association of New Brunswick, the regional health authorities and the many other stakeholders for their dedication to improving the health of mothers and babies through the establishment of this program,” said Flemming. “This group has worked tirelessly to advance this cause and I commend them for their efforts.”

The New Brunswick Perinatal Advisory Committee has been established to provide advice and support the work of the program. The program is expected to begin in the spring of 2014.