Program Helps Lower Infant and Maternal Mortality 

Nurse mentors helps lower infant and maternal mortality in Memphis.

For the past two decades, a program has paired low-income, first-time mothers with nurse mentors through their childrens' second birthdays. Now a study of that program is showing a reduction in preventable deaths of both the mothers and their kids.

The study followed more than 1,100 African-American mothers living in disadvantaged areas of Memphis. Conducted by Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), the program paired the first-time moms with a nurse who provided home visits throughout pregnancy until the child turned 2 years old.

The NFP program study revealed that infant mortality and preventable deaths among low-income mothers, such as suicide, homicide, and drug overdoses, were less likely to occur with families paired with nurses versus households assigned to a control group that didn't receive visits. Results of the program were delivered last week at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital.

Shassidy Paige said receiving nurse home visits strengthened her parenting skills. Paige enrolled in the NFP program 14 weeks into her pregnancy. She, her husband, and their now-10-month-old son Steven receive visits from nurse Jill Lewis every two weeks.

"[During the] times when I wanted to give up and was just so stressed out from having a small infant, Nurse Jill and the program were so supportive and just pushed me to keep going," Paige said. "Every tip, handout, and pamphlet I use, because it really helps me. I'm a first-time mom, so there was a lot of stuff that I didn't know how to do. I have the support of mom, grandmom, and everybody, but just having someone there [who is] medically inclined is great."

Through the program, nurses guide women with improving their prenatal health, creating safe sleep environments for their babies, and helping them communicate more effectively with their child.

After following mothers from 1990 to 2011, the study revealed that mothers from the control group who didn't receive nurse visits were eight times more likely to die from preventable causes like suicide, drug overdose, unintentional injuries, and homicide than nurse-visited mothers.

According to the study, children in the control group who didn't receive nurse visits had a mortality rate of 1.6 percent for preventable child deaths (such as homicide), sudden infant death syndrome, and unintentional injuries.

David Olds, lead investigator for the study, said improving children's health and development and first-time mothers' personal health and economic sub-sufficiency are key goals of the initiative.

"Serving women having their first pregnancies is a unique period in human development where we can help them do this job really well and learn how to care for themselves and their babies," said Olds, a University of Colorado professor of pediatrics.

According to the study, nurse-visited mothers had better prenatal health, reduced rates of closely spaced subsequent pregnancies, and decreased use of welfare, Medicaid, and food stamps. Nurse-visited mothers also had both fewer behavioral impairments due to substance use and attitudes that predisposed them to abuse their children.

Nurse-visited children were less likely to be hospitalized with injuries, have behavioral problems at school, and suffer from depression, anxiety, and substance use as young adolescents than children assigned to the control group.

Paige said the program has helped her reenroll in college. And her son Steven is already walking and up to date on his baby care and immunizations.

"I refer the program to first-time moms all across Memphis," Paige said. "I brag on the program all the time, because it has really helped me, and I know it can help someone else who isn't really sure about how to correctly raise a child."

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