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Baby basics: Registered nurses help guide low income moms

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Babies are born every day. Sometimes the nursery is ready and moms and dads are anxiously awaiting their new additions. Other times, babies' mothers are poor, experiencing their first pregnancy and feel alone, but they're not.

In 28 Minnesota counties, including Douglas, first time mothers can have the advantage of a registered nurse at their side. Douglas County is part of a national Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) program. NFP pairs low-income first-time mothers with registered nurses early in their pregnancies to help them make healthy choices that will affect their babies' futures. The result is a healthy baby and a healthier economy.

"The NFP program has changed the life trajectory of women," said Douglas County Public Health Director Sandy Tubbs.

Douglas County is part of the Supporting Hands group, a division of the Minnesota Nurse-Family Partnership. Supporting Hands operates through a 20-county collaborative that uses the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency based in Minneapolis.

"It's impressive how the impact of nurses have affected the lives of these women."

Sandy Tubbs, Douglas County Public Health Director

Twenty-eight of Minnesota's 87 counties participate in NFP. It began in 2001 with St. Louis, Clay and Wilkin counties. The White Earth Band and Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa tribes started receiving services from the agency in 2011. Except for Supporting Hands, all other counties are supported by public health departments.

Supporting Hands receives half its funding from counties, a third from health plans and the remainder from grants and donations. The 501(c)(3) non-profit is ready to accept more women, said Katie Jensen, a public health nurse and Supporting Hands coordinator. Tubbs emphasized that the program will add as many nurses as needed and welcomes donations. There are eight nurses at this time.

The program boasts that every dollar put into the program yields a $5 return to the community by eliminating the costs of long-term social service programs. NFP reported that more than 30 years of research have shown a 48 percent reduction in child abuse and neglect, 56 percent decline in emergency room visits for accidents and poisonings, 59 percent fewer arrests of 15-year-olds, 72 percent fewer convictions of mothers (when her child is age 15) and a 67 percent reduction in behavioral and intellectual problems in children at age 6.

"First time mothers are more receptive to information. It can be a struggle to break out of a pattern after the first child."

Katie Jensen, PHN, Supporting Hands Coordinator

HOW IT WORKS

A first stop for a lot of women once they learn they are pregnant is a Women, Infants and Children (WIC) office. Many participants in the NFP program were referred by WIC or social services, Tubbs said. Once a woman contacts NFP, she is partnered with a registered nurse advisor.

"It's impressive how the impact of nurses have affected the lives of these women," Tubbs said. "It's a tough job for the nurses, but the reward is worth it."

A nurse visits the mother-to-be beginning with visits during her first pregnancy through her child's second birthday. Women should enroll in the program by the 28th week of pregnancy. Mothers are educated on how to improve their diets and reduce use of cigarettes, alcohol and illegal substances.

"First time mothers are more receptive to information,"Jensen said. "It can be a struggle to break out of a pattern after the first child."

Plans are also put in place to continue education efforts and find work. Approximately half of the mothers who entered the program without a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma received one. The median age of mothers at time of intake is 19; 90 percent are not married.

Supporting hands currently has 115 active participants.

"Douglas County has a good referral base," Tubbs said. "There are 27 participants in the county now and almost 70 in the past five years."

Tubbs said although the program is intended for women, nurse advisors can work with men in Douglas County as well.

Children's health and development are fostered through his or her parent learning responsible care practices. Clients using the Nurse Family Partnership program have boosted child immunizations up to 93 percent by age 2; 90 percent of those babies were born at a full term and 92 percent were at a healthy birth weight (5.5 pounds or more).

"Our first goal is that we want a healthy baby," Tubbs said.

Three decades ago, Dr. David Olds, founder of the Nurse-Family Partnership program, recognized a need for extra care during a mother's pregnancy and the first two years of a child's life. Olds observed women's and children's behaviors while working at an inner-city daycare center in Elmira, New York. His program has been adopted in 43 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For more information on Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership, visit www.nursefamilypartnership.org, e-mail info@nursefamilypartnership.org or call Katie Jensen, public health nurse, at (320) 287-2585. County health agencies can also be of assistance. Douglas County public health can be reached at (320) 763-6018. The organization is also on Facebook and YouTube.

NURSE FAMILY PARTNERSHIP RESULTS

93 percent of children receive immunizations by age 2

90 percent of babies born at full term

92 percent of full term babies born at healthy weight

80 percent of mothers initiated breastfeeding

48 percent of mothers attained a diploma or GED

Information provided by Nurse-Family Partnership data.

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

Crystal Dey

Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.

(320) 763-1233
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