PENNSAUKEN — For the second year, a collaborative program by a consortium of Garden State organizations is helping women in the urban centers of Newark, Trenton and Camden become aware of the importance of maintaining their health from the moment they decide to conceive a child.

In South Jersey, that has taken form as the Trusted Links initiative at the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative, funded by the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and centering on women in Camden.

Barbara May, SNJPC director of policy and program development, said their research has shown that Camden — in addition to the two other major New Jersey cities targeted by the coalition — has a high rate of infant mortality, or babies dying before age 1.

And since, as May puts it, women often seek information on pregnancy through friends or family before consulting with someone in the medical field, getting out into the community to spread their mission is crucial.

"The premise of the project is to educate women through other women who have been trained, so it's a woman-to-woman approach, about their health and how important it is to be healthy prior to pregnancy, during pregnancy, and even after pregnancy," May said.

She added that since the early 1990s, increased attention has been paid to educating expectant mothers, and ensuring their and their children's welfare. Health during pregnancy had previously been the sole concentration for both women and their doctors, but that is changing.

"The focus here, and it's new to the women that we're training, is to pay attention to health before you get pregnant and also, after you have a baby, to continue to pay attention to your health," May said.

Trusted Links has seen lots of success so far, according to May, but there are elements like elevated blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy which can affect a woman long-term, and can still be further emphasized.

For more on Trusted Links, visit snjpc.org.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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