Prenatal education program helps low-income women prepare for babies

Stork delivers health tips, aid for moms-to-be

April 04, 2007|By Nina Sears | Nina Sears,Sun reporter

At Baltimore Washington Medical Center's outreach center, amid bottles, breast pumps and toys, seven pregnant women discussed what mothers-to-be think about quite a lot: food.

In this case, however, the talk was not about cravings. The women were learning that what they eat and what they feed their babies affects their children's health.

On other days, they might discuss the effects of secondhand smoke and alcohol on fetal development, the discomforts of pregnancy and labor and delivery.

The women are getting cozy in the county's first Stork's Nest, a free program for low-income residents, who often do not get the prenatal care they need.

"We want to target women who are at the greatest risk," said Kim Davidson, the program's coordinator. "Anytime we are able to do that, then the program is meeting the goal."

The program awards participants points for attending class, seeing an obstetrician or pediatrician and doing things like breast-feeding or enrolling in the county's Healthy Start or the federal Women, Infants and Children's (WIC) program.

Bringing a supporter such as a spouse, family member, friend or the baby's father to the class is also worth points. The future moms can "spend" those points before or after the meetings at a mini-store on things like car seats, playpens, food and clothes. Points are good until the babies turn 1 year old.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. founded the program and brought it to the March of Dimes. With the help of their local chapters and the Anne Arundel County Health Department, the Glen Burnie hospital launched the program in September at its storefront in Arundel Mills mall.

One of 175 Stork's Nests nationwide, the Hanover location was selected because of its proximity to the western and northern regions of Anne Arundel, both at-risk areas for higher infant mortality rates and pre-term births, according to the Department of Health.

More than 6,700 babies were born in the county in 2005, the latest year for which statistics are available. The infant mortality rate for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2006, was 6.6 deaths per 1,000 births.

The mortality rate among African-American babies in the 2005 calendar year was 8.1 per 1,000 births, compared with 4.7 deaths per 1,000 white babies. The statewide infant mortality rate for African-American babies was 12.7 percent.

That's an improvement, Davidson said. Anne Arundel County had seen a 30 percent increase in infant mortality rates in the previous five years..

Risk factors, researchers say, include a mother's smoking, infections and low birth weights, which are often linked to nutrition and lack of prenatal care.

That's where the Stork's Nest comes in.

"It's a tight curriculum," said Dr. Jinlene Chan, who helped develop the Arundel program. "The challenge is packing as much information into six one-hour sessions."

The current program is nearing its end. The next session starts April 11.

During a recent meeting, the women discussed how to read food labels and the value of getting enough iron.

Twenty-five women have graduated from the first three sessions, and many continue to stay active. Candice Hawkins of Glen Burnie, who has a 5-month-old son, spoke with the participants about her experiences raising her first child.

"The program worked really well. ... it helps to prepare you," said Hawkins, 20. "It helps you to prepare yourself."

The classes provide the women a social outlet and an opportunity to form bonds with one another.

"I don't see as much shopping as there is building relationships," instructor Verna Prince said. "The girls who have developed a relationship with us and their peers develop a support system that is almost as important as the information they get."

For more information on the Stork's Nest, call Kim Davidson at 410-787-4366.

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