Best Beginnings

Best Beginnings: Yolo County Health Department Helping Families Start Off on the Right Foot
December 10, 2009
Ada Barros-Heiser, Health Educator

Having children is already a challenge even if you have the advantage of a stable living wage, a good education, and lots of support from friends and family. When complications during pregnancy arise, it can be frightening and stressful, even for the most resourceful of parents. If you have a high-risk baby who arrives much too early or needs to stay in intensive care, even the strongest of parents can crumble.

Imagine being 18, having little to no income, and no family support and going through the same crisis. Imagine being a pregnant woman who can barely read, or can barely cling to sobriety. Unfortunately, so many of these women fall through the cracks in our healthcare system, and many suffer complications in pregnancy that could have been easily prevented or managed. Many babies born to these mothers are high-risk infants, who, if they survive, do not have a very good outlook in life, unless someone, somewhere, intervenes.

At the Yolo County Health Department, a new program aims to help these moms and babies move toward good health during pregnancy and throughout life. Funded in part by local First 5 Yolo Children & Families Commission funds, the Best Beginnings Public Health Nurse Visitation Program is unique in that its curriculum was put together by Yolo County’s very own public health nurses. However, like many other successful nurse home visitation programs, it uses strategies proven to improve the well-being of low-income mothers with a high-risk pregnancy and mothers of high-risk infants.

Started in July 2009, the program is currently serving 20 families, and is expected to serve at least 50 families per year. The current eligibility criteria for the program include low-income status, with a high-risk pregnancy, or moms who have a high-risk infant. Pregnancies that are considered high-risk generally involve mothers with the following conditions:

  • very young or old
  • overweight or underweight
  • problems with previous pregnancies
  • health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or HIV
  • early labor

High-risk infants include premature babies or those who received treatment in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Current clients of this Yolo County Health Department program include several women with gestational diabetes. These are very high-risk pregnancies and need to be monitored often for the safety of the mother and the survival of the infant. There are also clients who come with pre-existing conditions, such as uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, with risks similar to those with gestational diabetes. There are clients battling to stay sober. Some clients have mental illness and need their medication monitored very closely. Some clients have a history of abuse in their past, which makes it difficult for them to bond with their baby.

With all program participants, Yolo County public health nurses provide on-going support and assistance to help clients adopt healthy behaviors, as well as monitor medications to maintain health during and after their pregnancy. Public health nurses also work on attachment and bonding issues, and help moms know how to read their baby’s cues, so the relationship between mother and child is happy and healthy. By doing this, Yolo County Health Department Best Beginnings Public Health Nurse Visitation Program staff are truly helping these babies and families have the best possible beginnings.