Nurses and mothers make a healthy partnership

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Mauri Bass smiled with delight as Asher, her 4-month-old son, rolled from his back onto his stomach on her living room carpet. Asher grinned and kicked his legs at his achievement.

"This one is advanced," said Amy Cross, R.N., as she jotted Asher's developmental milestone on a form and high-fived Mauri.

Amy is with the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP). Panhandle Health District (PHD) teams with the Spokane Regional Health District to provide the voluntary prevention program for first-time mothers. Nurses in the program begin home visits early in the mother's pregnancy and continue visitations until the child's second birthday.

Mauri was nine weeks pregnant with Asher when she first met Amy. She heard about the Nurse-Family Partnership through WIC, a federally-funded, nutrition counseling program at PHD.

"They said a nurse will come to your home," Mauri said. "I said, 'Sign me up.'"

Nurse-Family Partnership is an evidence-based nationwide program designed to transform the lives of first-time mothers and their babies. Through regular home visits from registered nurses, eligible women (based on income and risk) in their first pregnancy receive the care and support they need to have a healthy baby.

That care and support includes guidance to provide responsible and competent care for their children and to become more economically self-sufficient.

In trials conducted during the partnership's more than 30 years, mothers and children have consistently demonstrated improved prenatal health and child school readiness. The rate of child abuse and neglect decreased and so did the number of childhood injuries.

PHD began providing the Nurse-Family Partnership in Kootenai and Shoshone counties a year ago. Amy and Diana Bird, another R.N. in the PHD program, attended specialized training at the national NFP training center before accepting clients. Nurses who provide services through NFP must have a bachelor's degree in nursing.

Anyone can refer potential clients to the program - doctors, mental health agencies, social workers, WIC, food banks and citizens. Mothers, though, participate voluntarily and at no cost to them.

Mauri was one of PHD's first Nurse-Family clients. She wanted her baby to have a healthy start in life.

"At first, I felt a little overwhelmed," Amy said. "She wants me to be very specific and parenting isn't black and white. But I learned how best to help her and now this family is so much fun to work with."

Mauri believes Amy's guidance helped her eat healthier, stay hydrated and maintain her weight during pregnancy.

"She's smart," Mauri said. "It's so nice to bounce questions off her."

Amy visits Mauri and Asher twice a month now. After cuddling the baby for a few minutes, Amy checks his developmental progress. She shows Mauri how to help strengthen Asher's torso so he can sit by himself soon.

She asks Mauri how she's feeling. Mother's physical, mental and emotional health is as important as baby's in the Nurse-Family Partnership program.

As PHD enters its second year of the program, Amy and Diana are working with 33 women. Those women have given birth to 21 babies, including one set of twins. Since early July, PHD's WIC program has referred 10 more mothers to the program, but anyone can refer a pregnant mother to the program.

Eventually, Amy and Diana will each have 25 clients.

"This program is awesome for me," Mauri said. "I would highly recommend it to anyone."

For more information or to refer someone to PHD's Nurse-Family Partnership, contact Lisa Cramer at 415-5298 or lcramer@phd1.idaho.gov.

Cynthia Taggart is the public information officer for the Panhandle Health District. She can be reached at ctaggart@phd1.idaho.gov.

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