Healthy Moms, Healthy BabiesPrint This Post
Low Birthweight Initiative in Lamar County Focuses on Prenatal Health and Education
BY DIANA ST. LIFER
If anyone knows that healthy women have a better chance of giving birth to healthy babies, it’s Sherry Farr. As the nurse manager for the Lamar County Health Dept., Farr has seen her share of Low Birthweight (LBW) babies born in a county that has struggled for years with a LBW rate higher than the state’s.
Every day in Georgia, 36 babies are born LBW. That translates to more than 13,000 infants every year being born at risk because they come into the world weighing less than 5.8 pounds. While the state’s LBW statistics are staggering—they’re among the nation’s highest—babies in Lamar County are at even greater risk.
In 2007, Lamar County’s LBW rate was 12.8 percent, compared to the state’s 9.5 percent. The statistics weren’t a surprise to Farr who, that same year, attended a statewide conference to address this growing public health concern. “It had already been brought to my attention that our county has one of highest rates in the state for LBW babies,” she said.
While awareness about the LBW crisis was rising, the statistics were not improving. In 2010, thanks to an investment from Kaiser Permanente, Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) took action and launched the Low Birthweight Prevention initiative, a program aimed at lowering the LBW rate in Lamar and three other counties with rates higher than the state—Butts, Spalding, and Heard.
Working individually and as a cohort to share ideas and resources, the Collaboratives have been building a comprehensive system of programs, activities, and support for women of reproductive age to promote the health and well-being of both mother and child.
“Our primary goal is showing improvement in the overall health of women of childbearing age,” Farr explained. “Healthier moms mean healthier babies, which means a healthier family and a healthier community.”
Over the past two years, the Lamar County Collaborative has put into action a lifestyle curriculum that includes informational materials about healthy nutrition and fitness habits, nutrition classes, and a smoking cessation program.
The work is already making a difference. In 2011, the rate for Lamar County dropped to 11.1 percent and the goal is to be at 10.5 percent or better by the end of 2013.
The year the initiative was launched, Lamar County identified 20 women who had LBW babies and found several commonalities. “If you smoke, if you’re at an unhealthy weight when you get pregnant, or if you’re under undue stress—these are all things can lead to your baby being born too small,” Farr said.
The first step was to educate women about the risks, and then show them how and where they could take positive action. “We wanted to increase awareness, not just to the clients we serve through public health, but to other women as well,” she said.
By partnering with groups and businesses throughout the county, the Lamar Collaborative gives women access to prenatal care and resources. For example, through a voucher system, Hines Pharmacy provides free supplements that contain the recommended amount of folic acid; facilitators trained through the American Cancer Society offer smoking cessation programs for mothers and their family members; and women who participate in home visits by a nurse receive grocery store gift cards as an incentive.
Two mental health care providers also are part of the initiative to give women access to support. “Part of our responsibility is to help women understand that there are people out there to help,” Farr said. “Sometimes they just don’t know where to go and we need to point them in the right direction.”
Lamar County LBW Initiative Collaborative Partners
Community support is a key ingredient. “We’re blessed to have a fantastic community that works together to make things better,” Farr said. “People really jump on board with both feet to be involved and do what they can.”
One of those people is Trisha Walker, a biology professor at Gordon State College, who spearheaded the creation of a symposium on women’s health. The first was held at the college in the spring and a second in the fall. “I have a passion for infant and maternal health,” said the 25-year Lamar resident who is pursing a doctorate in public health with a concentration in community health education and promotion.
The symposium is open to Gordon students as well as to the general public. “Low birthweight impacts not only families, but the community as well in terms of economic costs and population health in general.” The plan is to hold a symposium each semester on campus and to expand it to include men’s health issues.
Rebekah Hudgins, GaFCP community cohorts program manager, points out that nearly 70 percent of infants in Georgia who die in the first year of life are born LBW. And those who do survive often face a variety of developmental challenges and long-term disabilities, such as lower educational achievement, behavioral problems, and cognitive developmental delays. Reducing the number of LBW babies will have a positive impact on other indicators of family well-being.
Prior to launching the LBW initiative, GaFCP published Improving Infant Health: Addressing Low Birthweight in Georgia, a comprehensive compendium that presents facts, statistics, and resources, as well as actionable recommendations to improve birth outcomes.
“It was validation that the need was there and it needed to be addressed,” Farr said. “It was great to have those statistics in black and white and be able to put it in front of people who can make a difference.”
This year the Collaborative will continue its effort to increase community awareness about the overall family health, particularly during the reproductive years, and hopes to expand its nutrition education and smoking cessation program, and create parenting classes.
Diana St. Lifer is a professional writer with more than 25 years’ experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications, a post-B.A. certificate in child advocacy, and is a certified professional life coach who specializes in teen and adolescent issues.
Few things give Naomi Hartman more pleasure than seeing a healthy, thriving baby, especially one who came into the world underweight. “It’s fantastic to see these kids who were so small and at such a disadvantage doing really great,” said Hartman, a registered nurse at Upson Regional Medical Center and case manager for the Low-Birthweight (LBW) initiative in Lamar County.
Read “Moms in Lamar County Get Support Through Case Management Program.”
Low birthweight, childhood obesity, and a literacy gap are serious threats to the well-being of Georgia’s families and children. Recognizing the impact these pressing issues have on the state’s health, safety, and ability to prosper, Georgia Family Connection Partnership has launched three initiatives dedicated to developing and implementing strategies that address these key indicators.
Read “Eleven Family Connection Collaboratives Team Up to Tackle Key Indicators of Child and Family Well-Being.”