Program aims to address needs of moms and babies

By By ALLISON GRIFFIN

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — It is oddly quiet in this room full of parents and their 2-month-old newborns. The parents — mostly moms, but a few dads too; most are first-time parents — are listening to a family nurse practitioner give them practical knowledge about raising their babies.

Today's lesson focuses on such common ailments as colic and fever, but also about car safety and dispelling old wives' tales.

This is a Centering Parenting class, which is a national model of group care that incorporates health assessment, education and support. It's led by Khai Salaam and Summer Bass, two family nurse practitioners who provide not just information, but health care for the babies as well.

It's an extension of the existing Centering Pregnancy program, also led by Salaam and Bass. Both programs are based on the same idea: that parents, most of whom are on Medicaid, can get all their questions about parenting asked and answered, without feeling intimidated. They also get a meal while they're here, and all of their babies' checkups and immunizations are handled here as well.

Deanna Bracy, who went through the Centering Pregnancy program, is here at the center's classroom at Baptist Medical Center South with her first baby, Sommer Favor. She likes not having to sit in a pediatrician's office and wait; here, the parents come at the same time, go through a health assessment, have a bite to eat and get started with their lesson, which is usually an hour and a half to two hours.

Bracy also likes that there are other parents like her here. "A lot of times, when you're by yourself, it's good to write down what you're thinking, so when you go to the doctor you'll know what you need to ask," she said. But if she forgets to ask, usually one of the other parents brings it up.

"So it helps me with that. 'Oh, my baby does that too.'"

It's a good thing the little ones are napping. Their parents are here to learn good parenting habits and about healthy self-care, as well as to bond with each other in a support-group setting.

But the quiet doesn't last long. The calm atmosphere of the classroom, with its colorful cartoons painted on the walls and comfy chairs and rockers, is soon pierced by the wails of the little ones getting their first round of vaccinations.

At each visit, the babies are weighed and measured, and the moms are weighed and have blood pressure readings done.

"What's different for us, other than the fact that we see them in a group, (is that) we still care for the mom and baby," Salaam said. "So if mother is having a problem, we try to deal with those issues too. If we find that there's some abnormalities, we'll refer them out to get those things taken care of. In a regular pediatrician's office, they're only seeing the child."

Both Salaam and Bass are pleased with the positive response they get from parents. "It's kind of spreading in the community, because we have women who weren't in the pregnancy program who've found out about it and are coming in and attending," Bass said.

For Centering Pregnancy, the moms have to have a physician referral. But Centering Parenting is voluntary. The parents call the center when they're still in the hospital after giving birth, and they bring the babies in a few days after delivery, once they're discharged.

The parents come to the center on a pediatric schedule — at two weeks, then one month, two months, four months, six months, nine months and a year old. The program ends with a birthday party for all the 1-year-old graduates. Another perk for the parents: they have access to Salaam or Bass 24/7 by telephone.

"Any time I got a problem, no matter what time it is, what day it is, it could be 3 a.m., I can call them," said Joseph Manuel, cradling his son, Joseph Jr. "You can't beat that. I won't have him nowhere else but here."

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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