Number of premature babies born to single mothers decreases thanks to nursing partnership

Mothers and their babies are visited by a nurse through pregnancy and the first two years of the child’s life to ensure the mother and baby are healthy and thriving.

NurseJoomlaJanie Payne became pregnant with her first child when she was 20 years old. As a new mother, she was unsure about what to expect and how to care for her son once he was born. Today, her son is 10 months old and is a happy, healthy, thriving boy. She credits  the Nurse-Family Partnership of Central Alabama, a program run by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing and the Jefferson County Department of Health.

The program, which has been in the Birmingham area for a little more than a year, is an agency that connects nurses who support pregnant mothers having their first baby. The nurses provide weekly or biweekly home visits during pregnancy and throughout the first two years of the child’s life.

“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, Ph.D., 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 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 is designed so the nurse and mother develop a strong relationship over the course of up to 64 in-home visits during the more than two-year period. The focus is on the first-time mother’s personal health, quality of care-giving and life course development — inspiring long-lasting change that benefits both the mother and child. It has been used around the country for nearly 40 years, including in Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, with great success.

Payne found out about the program when she first became pregnant.

“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.”

Since the program began in October 2017, 98 babies have been born to mothers participating in the Nurse-Family Partnership. Of the 98 infants, only 10 percent of the mothers had pre-term babies, born before 37 weeks of gestation.

According to Knight, Jefferson County and the state as a whole have a pre-term birth rate of 12 percent. 

“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.”

Due to the success of the program, it is growing to include areas outside Jefferson County. The partnership now serves women and babies in Walker County and will soon expand to Fayette County.

Maintaining the relationship  from pregnancy and through the first two years of the child’s life is important for the mother, the baby and any supporting family members they may have.

“Because we spend so much time in the home, we spend a lot of time with the mother and child and get to know their family members. We see what their support network looks like, and we intervene where we know more support is needed,” Knight explained.

From providing food and toys to connecting mothers with educational or career opportunities, the nurses are there to help the mother and child succeed.

“Thanks to the Food Link Project and the PATH Clinic, our nurses always have an emergency food box with them,” Knight said. “We always provide them with a list of food banks and locations where they can get free diapers and wipes.”

While the support is as much for the mother as it is for the baby, ensuring the mothers are able to care for their children once the visits end is a key part of the success of the program.

“I was so happy when I brought my son home, and I wasn’t scared because they made me feel confident as a mother,” Payne said. “So many women may not have family members to talk to about their concerns and their fears. My nurse not only taught me how to care for my child, but also how to care for myself.”

Once the toddler reaches 2 years old, the nurse stops the regular visits; but the mothers and children are not left on their own right away.

“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 explained. “We also connect the mothers with various career and GED programs so they can further their careers and educations.”

For Payne, the program has inspired her to serve others.

“I want to become a nurse one day and help women who are in the same situation as I was,” Payne said. “My nurse has inspired me to continue my education one day. She’s changed my life, and now I will be able to change my child’s life and hopefully the lives of other women and children in the future.”

For more information about the Nurse-Family Partnership, visit its website