Twelve weeks after conception, a fetus has fully developed arms, hands, fingers, feet and toes. Five months later is rapid brain growth.
But pregnant women who cannot afford the right nutrients or do not seek prenatal care put their unborn children at risk to start life at the back of the pack.
Moms-to-be who do not consume enough omega 3 fatty acids — such as salmon, walnuts and pumpkin seeds — can negatively affect their fetus.
“Omega 3 fatty acids are integral to brain development,” said Jean Olson, a psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist and visiting professor at Indiana University Northwest in Gary.
Indiana ranks 45th in the nation in infant mortality, a term that measures the number of babies who die before their first birthday. In 2011, the state recorded 7.68 infant deaths per 1,000 births.
Lake County statistics show room for improvement.
“Twenty percent of women don't get any prenatal care at all," said Crystal Shannon, a nurse and assistant professor at IU Northwest. "We have high infant illness and mortality rates. A lot of that is attributed to access to health care.
“The reality is, if Mom is living in an environment where she doesn't have access to health care, neither does the baby,” Shannon said.
Working in urban neighborhoods, she witnessed struggle. Residents are vulnerable.
“Then add on lack of access, lack of support, engaging in high-risk activity … domino effect,” she said. “And then you have a baby entering into this.”
Improving a mom's health and providing health care to her other children will give her unborn baby a healthier start, Shannon said.
“How do you get that care to the women who need it the most?” she said. “That's something we've struggled with.”
A Gary-based federally qualified health center is trying.
With funding from March of Dimes, Community HealthNet offers a program called Centering Pregnancy, a national model designed to have women take ownership of their pregnancy and health.
Participants are grouped based on due date, so the women experience similar changes around the same time.
They gather in white rocking chairs arranged in a circle, meeting 10 times over the course of their pregnancy.
They take their own blood pressure, weigh themselves, set goals and have individual check-ups with their clinician, according to the Centering Healthcare Institute.
The group discusses important health topics, facilitated by a clinician. Centering takes the place of routine individual visits, according to the institute.
It is a way to reduce infant mortality in Lake County, said Dr. Janet Seabrook, executive director of Community HealthNet.