NEW MADRID -- The New Madrid County Health Department took a giant leap for the area recently when they implemented Baby Steps -- a home visiting program geared to help young mothers-to-be have safer and healthier births.
"We had a similar program that was not as structured as the Baby Steps program, so we decided to switch because Baby Steps is more measurable. It lets us know if we are making a difference in the lives of our clients," said Program Supervisor Sharon McCallister, R.N.
Baby Steps is specifically designed for women ages 20-24. It provides education and support prenatally, at birth and up to two years after delivery by monthly visits in the home by a nurse and family support worker.
"According to the data we have seen, women ages 20-24 in New Madrid County are more at risk to have unhealthy pregnancies," Family Support Worker Tammy Bennett noted. "We hope to provide the women in our county with the information they need to promote healthy pregnancies by early prenatal care, which hopefully will result in positive birth outcomes."
Over the past two months, the staff has formed their referral committee. Members of the committee represent many organizations throughout the community such as WIC, Parents as Teachers, Division of Family Services and the New Madrid County Sheriff's Department. Each agency has given Baby Steps positive responses, Bennett said.
The Baby Steps staff is working with its first three clients. "The first three clients seem to be very excited and interested in the program. All of our clients in the program have special concerns about their pregnancy and we try to personalize each visit to meet the needs and concerns of our mothers," Bennett said.
The goals of Baby Steps are to promote healthy growth and development of infants through health screenings, education, immunizations and nutrition; second, to promote positive parent/child interactions as well as decrease child abuse and neglect; and finally, Baby Steps hopes to improve family functioning through education and referrals to community resources.
"Each client enrolled in Baby Steps must have at least one risk factor associated with their pregnancy," Bennett said. "Many of our mothers smoke, others have diabetes or hypertension. We provide information on ways to help reduce these risks."
For example, when Baby Steps has moms who smoke, the staff tries to educate them on the risks of smoking during their pregnancy and tries to offer some type of smoking cessation classes, Bennett explained. For diabetic mothers, they learn about diet and proper nutrition, she added.
Those enrolled in Baby Steps will receive a visit at least twice by a home visiting nurse -- once during pregnancy and once after delivery, bimonthly visits from a family support worker during pregnancy and monthly visits from a family support worker after delivery and until the child turns 2.
"We have attended several training sessions locally and in Jefferson City," Bennett said. "We attended training sessions on the Denver Development Screening, Ages and Stages Screening and the Edinburgh Depression Screening.
Bennett said the Denver Development Screening and Ages and Stages are tools to see if a child is developing and progressing age appropriate. The Edinburgh is a tool to test new mothers for postpartum depression. The Baby Steps staff also attended a training session on maltreatment and adolescent pregnancy and parenting, which is a program on how to break the cycle of abuse.
Bennett believes the program will be a success in New Madrid County. "Other county health departments throughout the state have the same type of home visiting program and the results have been very positive," she said. "Healthier babies have been born to at-risk pregnancies."
There is no cost to qualified clients. Baby Steps is funded by the Missouri Department of Health. For more information about Baby Steps, contact McCallister or Bennett at the New Madrid County Health Department, (573) 748-5541 or 1-800-870-5541.