Partnering for healthy babies

Published On 08/08/2014

Nurses support families through pregnancy, first two years improves outcomes

Chasidy Harris was 18 when she learned she was pregnant. Too embarrassed to go to the doctor, Harris went looking for resources that could help her navigate the world of teenage pregnancy.

That’s when she connected with the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program – a national early intervention program run locally by Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

The program offered Harris, and hundreds of other first-time, low-income mothers like her, home visits with a registered nurse throughout her pregnancy and the first two years of her child’s life. Le Bonheur has served more than 400 families through the program, which focuses on improving pregnancy outcomes, child health and development and families’ economic self-sufficiency.

This summer, the national office of Nurse-Family Partnership announced the results of a two-decade study looking at the program’s impact on maternal and child health. Published on JAMA Pediatrics website in July, the study followed 1,138 families in Memphis, Tenn., and found that NFP reduced preventable deaths among both children and their mothers.

Mothers in the home-visitation program were less likely to die of external causes like suicide, drug overdose and homicide and unintentional injuries. Similarly, NFP reduced preventable child death from birth to age 20. The Memphis follow-up is the most recent report from a series of trials conducted over a 37-year period to determine Nurse-Family Partnership’s long-term effects.

“Nurse-Family Partnership is saving lives, and these nurses change the future for families and children,” said Marilyn Smith, RN, BSN-CLC, supervisor of Le Bonheur’s NFP program. Smith participated in the Memphis trial, which began in 1990.

For mothers like Harris, NFP nurses offer valuable education on everything from prenatal vitamins and diet to smoking cessation and child development – all in the privacy of their own home. Harris was 25 weeks along in her pregnancy when she enrolled in NFP and was paired with Elizabeth Pletz, RN, BSN.

“It was good to be able to have Nurse Beth come to my home where I could ask questions in private,” said Harris. “She taught me a lot about the different phases [of pregnancy and a child’s life] and how to calm down if I’m upset.”

Nurses visit mothers regularly throughout their pregnancy and the first two years of their baby’s life. Visits increase during critical periods, including the six weeks after birth. Nurses also help connect mothers with an obstetrician/gynecologist and a pediatrician.

“One of my favorite things about NFP is the frequency of the visits – getting to see my clients regularly and getting to know them,” said Pletz, who has followed Harris for almost two years. Pletz joined NFP in June 2012.

Harris’ daughter, Janiah, was born on Dec. 22, 2012, her exact due date. Now 18 months, Janiah is a happy, healthy toddler. Mom Chasidy, too, is doing well. The now 20-year-old who has dreamed of becoming a chef since the sixth grade studies culinary arts full time at Memphis’ L’Ecole Culinaire and works five nights a week at the Madison Hotel, a boutique hotel.