A program ran by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing has been working to help young mothers with their first child for the past year, and the number of premature babies born to single mothers has decreased since its beginning.
The Nurse-Family Partnership of Central Alabama is run by UAB and the Jefferson County Department of Health.
The program brings pregnant, single women in contact with nurses that can help them before and after giving birth to their first child. Nurses stay with the women up until two years, or 64 home visits, after the child’s birthday, visiting weekly or biweekly.
Mothers and nurses are encouraged to build a strong relationship throughout their visits. Focus is put both on the mother’s personal care and caregiving for the child.
“Our goals are to help them with pregnancy and birth outcomes, improve their child development, help them reach their goals and improve economic self-sufficiency of the family,” said Candace Knight, an obstetric nurse at the UAB School of Nursing. “The first thousand days are key in the baby’s brain growth and development, so we are there to support mom and help her care for the baby. We take them books; we take them developmentally appropriate toys once a month to help them care for their development. That’s why we focus on the first two years.”
The program has been utilized successfully nationally, including in Tuscaloosa and Montgomery.
Janie Payne used the nurse-family program when she became pregnant with her son at 20 years old. She credits the program for helping her start parenthood off right.
“When an employee at the clinic told me about it, I knew I wanted to be part of it,” Payne said. “This is my first baby, and I was happy to learn what I needed to do to take care of myself, prepare myself for labor and take care of my child.”
The state and Jefferson County have a pre-term birthday rate of 12 percent, Knight said.
“This shows that the mothers are listening to what we tell them; they are caring for themselves and their babies before birth,” Knight said. “We know the consistent visits help them both before and after the birth.”
Since the program has seen success in Jefferson County, the team is hoping to expand to surrounding areas. Walker County is now part of the partnership, and Fayette County is next on the list.
Nurses provide food and toys for the child and career and educational resources for the mother.
When the child reaches 2 years old, the program’s nurse visits end, but they do not merely leave the women, Knight said.
“We try to hand off families to other programs who see them until the baby reaches kindergarten to ensure they are ready to begin school,” Knight said. “We also connect the mothers with various career and GED programs so they can further their careers and educations.”