New program to help first-time mothers

Published 9:56 pm Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Western Tidewater Health District on Thursday announced a new program to help first-time mothers successfully find their way through their child’s first two years of life.

The Nurse-Family Partnership is new to Virginia but runs in 40 states nationwide. It pairs registered nurses with low-income, first-time mothers during pregnancy and follows the family through the child’s second birthday.

“It’s going to be incredible,” said Delores Paulding, public health nurse supervisor for the Western Tidewater Health District. “I think more children are going to be prepared for school, and there will be less infant mortality.”

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About 40 people attended Thursday’s open house to learn more about the program. It is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and a grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation.

To qualify for the program, a woman must be having her first baby, be fewer than 28 weeks pregnant and be low-income. The same income guidelines used for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program are used for the Nurse-Family Partnership, so a woman is eligible if she qualifies for WIC.

During the program, the registered nurse will make weekly home visits during the 30 months of the program, Paulding said. At first, she will establish a relationship with the mother, helping her to navigate pregnancy, take care of her body and learn the symptoms of premature labor and how to stop it.

After the baby is born, the nurse will help the mother learn to take care of and play with her baby, check for developmental delays, help the mother find financial self-sufficiency, encourage family planning and provide other support services, Paulding said.

The Western Tidewater Health District is the first area in Virginia to implement the program.

“We are No. 1,” said Nancy Welch, director of the Western Tidewater Health District. “We persuaded them we are the right place for it.”

Ann Ridder, one of two nurses who will work with Suffolk families, said the program’s success has been proven through research in other localities. Among families who participated, the children had better reading, language and math skills later in life and were hospitalized for fewer days when compared to children who had not participated; the mothers had longer intervals before having their second child and spent fewer months on food stamps and other forms of welfare.

Independent research showed that for every dollar invested in the program, it returned and saved about $5.70 in increased tax revenues and decreased expenses for school systems, health care, jails and the courts, Ridder said.

Up to 100 women in the Western Tidewater Health District will be able to be in the program at a time — 50 in Suffolk, 25 in Franklin and Isle of Wight County and 25 in Southampton County.

Women can be referred to the program through WIC, school nurses, guidance counselors, crisis pregnancy centers and other resources, Paulding said.

Welch said she is excited about the program.

“Home visitation was classic public health,” she said. “It’s coming back. You know that this program can make a difference.”

For more information on the program, call 514-4727 or visit www.nursefamilypartnership.org.