Patricia Hall was thrilled to learn she was pregnant for the first time.
Then came a flood of questions about what to expect during pregnancy and as a new mom.
Her search for answers led to Christiana Care, where Hall participated in the CenteringPregnancy program for her prenatal care. CenteringPregnancy offers patient-centered prenatal care in a group setting, and provided Hall with education on how to nurture herself and her baby before and after giving birth.
“I learned so much, from what I should eat to what changes I should expect in my body,” said Hall, now the mother of three, who also participated in other Christiana Care classes and support programs for expectant mothers. “The classes were informative and interactive and really fun. I loved meeting women in the same shoes as me. By the time I had my first child, all of my questions had been answered — even the ones I didn’t know I had. It was everything I needed.”
As the largest health care provider in Delaware and one of the largest in the U.S., Christiana Care delivers more than 6,000 babies a year. Through education and expert, compassionate care for mothers-to-be, and strategic partnerships with local organizations, Christiana Care helps women across the region prepare for pregnancy, carry to term and deliver thriving babies.
“We provide the full spectrum of care to help mothers and babies achieve optimal health,” said Elizabeth M. Zadzielski, M.D., associate clinical lead, Women and Children’s Services at Christiana Care. “We are extremely passionate about this and very optimistic about the difference we can make for women. We want all moms to be successful.”
Attention to preconception and prenatal health is of national importance. Annually in the U.S., six in every 1,000 babies die before their first birthday, a rate even higher in Delaware—eight in 1,000. And across the country, according to “Closing the Black-White Gap in Birth Outcomes: A Life Course Approach” from the National Institutes of Health, African-American babies are more than twice as likely than white babies to die within their first year.
But behind these disturbing numbers is hope. With education and better maternal health, many infant deaths are preventable. Christiana Care works toward this goal through collaborative programs and services to support vulnerable populations.
“Some of the most important things a woman can do to have a healthy baby occur before she becomes pregnant. By focusing on preconception health, we can help assure better health outcomes for both mother and baby,” said David A. Paul, M.D., clinical leader of Women and Children’s Services, chair of Pediatrics and governor-appointed chair of the Delaware Healthy Mother and Infant Consortium.
Since 2007, Christiana Care has partnered with the Delaware Division of Public Health on Healthy Beginnings, a program to help women achieve a healthy full-term birth, and one that Hall participated in. The program addresses many of the root causes of racial disparities in birth outcomes, including lack of access to quality health care, poor maternal health and, unique to black women, social and racial stressors and inequities.
Bringing together a team of Christiana Care physicians, nurse practitioners and educators, social workers, mentors, dieticians and case managers, the program helps patients identify and address pregnancy risks before conception and set the stage post-conception for a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
“Healthy Beginnings provides holistic care at our OB-GYN practices,” said Stephanie Rogers, MSN, RN, nurse manager of Parent Education, Lactation and Outpatient Programs at Christiana Care, with a background in racial disparities in maternal and child health. “The program addresses many risk factors the women we serve face, such as obesity and diabetes, stress, lack of exercise, and smoking, alcohol and illegal drugs. It also promotes having a reproductive life plan.”
Among the other Christiana Care programs supporting at-risk women are peer counselors who encourage and support WIC-eligible moms to breastfeed, the Center for Women’s Emotional Wellness, which offers specialized behavioral health support pre- and post-childbirth, community-based Health Ambassadors who connect pregnant women and families to health care, social services and more, and CenteringPregnancy, which combines prenatal care visits with support groups.
Additionally, to address the impact of the nation’s growing opioid crisis on Delaware’s youngest lives — approximately three in 100 babies born in Delaware experience opiate withdrawal within hours of being born — Christiana Care has joined forces with substance abuse and behavioral health services providers.
The health system provides clinical care and education to expectant mothers in recovery on-site at Brandywine Counseling and Community Services in Wilmington and runs educational groups at Connections in Newark. And obstetrics staff visit Brandywine twice a month to provide onsite prenatal care to women participating in the methadone maintenance program.
“It’s vital that we reach and engage at-risk women very early on,” said Women & Children’s nurse practitioner Pamela W. Jimenez, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, PNP-BC. “Our moms-to-be have incredible, inspiring stories, and we want them to feel comfortable seeking care regardless of what else is going on in their lives. Our priority is making sure their health needs are met and that we’re positioning them and their babies to thrive.”