Nurse-Family Partnership Helps Pregnant Women Adjust To Mom Life

Published: Monday, October 9, 2017 - 3:55pm
Updated: Friday, October 13, 2017 - 9:13am

Every week, Beth Nobles visits Dana D’Ambrosio and her newborn daughter, Anastasia, at her home to check her weight and height, and to check in on her mom.

At 6-weeks-old this week, she weighs in a 9 pounds, 10 ounces and about 20 inches long. And, her mom is happy to report they slept for eight hours the day before.

At this meeting, Nobles is going to tackle what to do when your baby is sick.

“How do you know when Anastasia is sick? What are some of those signs that she gives you? What is it that you can see with your eyes? And then how to take her temperature,” Nobles said.

D’Ambrosio is enrolled in the Maricopa County Department of Health’s Nurse-Family Partnership, and Nobles is a nurse who has been visiting her every week for months, throughout much of her pregnancy and, now, as she adjusts to life as a new mom. It’s a national community health program that serves low-income women across the country who are pregnant with their first child.

D’Ambrosio was referred to the program by her doctor. At first she said she didn’t think she’d join, until she had a question one day that she couldn’t get answered.

“My mom’s not around so I didn’t have that female thing,” she said. “My first thing was I didn’t know what kick counts felt like.”

In your final months of pregnancy, you’re told to count the number of kicks you can feel in the womb to make sure the baby’s doing well.

“That was my first concern, because you’re supposed to do the kick count thing,” she said. “And then other people, when I asked them, they made me feel like I was stupid for asking what it feels like.”

So, she called Nobles, and joined the program.

According to Denise Voiles, the supervisor of the Nurse Family Partnership here in Maricopa County, most of the women are referred to the program through the Women, Infants and Children’s Program, or WIC.

She said that they try to get women enrolled early on, before their third trimester, so they can really make a difference as far as nutrition, making sure they’re getting prenatal care, preparing them for childbirth, and addressing any substance-abuse issues with them that could be harmful to their baby.

“You can’t really separate the mom from the baby,” Voiles said. “So, you start with her, prepare her, and try to address the issues in her life that may lead to an unhealthy pregnancy, an unhealthy baby.”

Within the program, Nobles said, she’s obviously a nurse. “But, I’m also a cheerleader, I’m also an encourager, and I’m a mentor,” she said. “I just watch young moms who’ve never had a mentor that can say, you know, this is the car seat you need, this is why baby’s need to sleep on their backs, and sometimes they just, they have no idea.”

And, she can teach them, so they have easier, less stressful pregnancies that lead to healthier children.

“I think it’s an empowerment to know that they can and that they can be that good mom, they can be that person that knows what’s best for their baby,” Nobles said.

So, why all the focus on mom? According to new research highlighted by the Brookings Institution, 1-year-olds growing up in poverty are already lagging behind when it comes to language and cognitive ability.

And, you can see differences in brain size as early as 5 weeks old.

And that suggests that what’s happening before the baby’s born could be more important than we had previously thought.

Brookings argues that these differences in brain matter in newborns points to the need for more programs like this that address the stressors facing the mother while she’s pregnant, because those can
have a strong impact on their baby’s developing brain.

For the women in the Nurse Family Partnership, poverty plays a huge rule, according to Voiles. And, it leads to other stressors, like insecure living situations, insecure food availability, and stressors around relationships, she said.

For D’Ambrosio, there were a lot of stressors during her pregnancy. She’s on probation and has dealt with addiction issues in the past.

“I was working at 35th Avenue and Lower Buckeye at the jail up there, and I don’t have a car or my license, so I was walking to the mall to catch a bus, on the bus for two hours going there and then two hours coming back. And then working for 10 hours on my feet,” she said. “That’s why I stopped a week early just in case. I didn’t want my water to break on the bus.”

But having a baby on the way also gave her a reason to put her life back together.

“I’ve watched Dana really just shine,” according to Nobles. “From being pregnant and working and walking to catch the bus to get to work while she was pregnant in the heat of June and July. I just
watched her, the commitment that she’s had to make such changes in her life and I’m standing and applauding for that.”

Today, D’Ambrosio is looking to enroll in college, and she’s in love with her newborn daughter.

“I can tell I love her just because I can’t keep my eyes off her,” she said. “She’s just part of me.”

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