SARAH VERBIEST

Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.

High-risk postpartum mothers are receiving inter-conceptional education and support through the Camellia Project, a pilot program funded by the March of Dimes, Florida Chapter, in northeast Florida.  The project provides curriculum-based group activities and individual support to mothers who have had a fetal or infant loss, or a baby hospitalized in the NICU.  It offers an inter-conceptional intervention for  addressing maternal risk factors that could impact a subsequent pregnancy in this high risk group.

Project interventions include:  1) initial support for mothers in the NICU, follow-up and engagement post-discharge; 2) facilitation of post-partum health care, including family planning; 3) provision of education and support through group activities; and 4) follow-up and linkage to other needed services in the community. The Camellia Project utilizes an adaptation of the inter-conceptional curriculum developed for the Magnolia Project, a successful federal Healthy Start initiative being implemented in the urban core of Jacksonville. Group activities include six sessions that focus on goal setting, chronic disease and associated risk factors, baby spacing and family planning; stress, and the benefits of healthy eating, multivitamin consumption and physical activity.

In two years, 180 women have been served by the project with 77 completing the intervention. Preliminary evaluation results indicate the project has successfully increased participant knowledge through the educational session and positively impacted their intent to adhere to five of eight healthy behaviors.  Based on one- and four-month follow-up, exercise, contraceptive use, healthy diet, reduced smoking and improved problem solving increased following participation in the program. Only two of the participants (2.6%) have become pregnant again within a year. Stress and depression were also lowered for participants after the group activities; however levels appear to increase at the one- and four-month follow-up.  The most important impact of the program has been increasing the social supports provided by the women themselves. Follow-up interviews with initial participants reveal that lasting friendships have been formed among group members. During the group activities, mothers provided support to one another, offering resources and guidance based on their own knowledge and experience.  The mothers are particularly appreciative  for the opportunity to interact with other mothers who understand what they are going through with  a baby in the NICU.

The Camellia Project is one of three demonstrations projects funded by the March of Dimes, Florida Chapter targeting a statewide priority to develop Comprehensive Inter-conception Health Services for High-risk Women. Women who have experienced a poor birth outcome are at highest risk of a poor outcome in their next pregnancy. The Florida chapter is also funding an evaluation of the demonstration projects to identify best practices for a model inter-conceptional intervention.  The Camellia Project is being implemented by the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, Inc. For more information visit: http://nefhealthystart.org/for-women/camelia-project/.

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