BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — Elizabeth Markham of Battle Creek may have been simply chatting with a nurse Aug. 1 during a home visit, but the mom knew it was going to improve the lives of her and her baby.
Markham, 22, was talking to Heidi Pengra, a registered nurse with the Nurse-Family Partnership in Calhoun County, during a routine visit to check both the health of Markham and her daughter, 6-month-old Roann Markham, the Battle Creek Enquirer (http://bcene.ws/1kWi8J3 ) reported.
"Honestly, it was the best thing I could've done because I learned so much," Markham said.
The Nurse-Family Partnership is a nationwide program that connects nurses to clients at or near the beginning of their pregnancy. Those nurses then continue to meet with the client and her family throughout pregnancy, childbirth and until the child is 2 years old.
The program is free for the participants, and is open to Calhoun County women who are pregnant with their first child, eligible for WIC or Medicaid and it is before her 26th week of pregnancy.
The county's Nurse-Family Partnership began at the Calhoun County Public Health Department in 2010. Since then, the nurses have been visiting mothers and their children, providing them with knowledge and care that, Markham and Pengra said, forms a bond between them.
"I went to the Family Health Center for my doctor, and they had brought it up in my first pre-registration visit," Markham said. "They said it's a good program. My sister was pregnant before then, and she started the program and she said she liked it, so I was like, 'I'll try it.'"
On Aug. 1, Pengra began her visit to Markham's Battle Creek apartment by talking about little Roann, who was playing in a jumper. Later, Markham told Pengra about how strong Roann was. She often tries to grab bottles and feed herself, Markham said, and loves to grab at the two fuzzy kittens that also call the apartment home.
Pengra was pleased with those stories.
Questions at the outset of a visit at this point in Roann's life, Pengra said, will usually focus on feeding, the general health of the baby and any upcoming doctor visits.
"It starts during pregnancy, so there's kind of three segments of the program," Pengra said. "Pregnancy, infancy and then once she turns one, toddler."
Pengra said there's a check at four months on gross motor and fine motor skills, communication and other developmental milestones.
"See where she's at and see if there's some areas she needs a little work in or whatever, and give Elizabeth ideas for things she can do to promote development," Pengra said, "which she's done a really good job doing."
Visits, Pengra said, will usually be once a week, then every other week and then monthly. At the Aug. 1 visit, Pengra and Markham talked about vaccinations that will be coming up at Roann's 6-month doctor's appointment.
Markham talked about how she wasn't looking forward to more needles pricking her baby.
"You're being a good mom by doing it, but you hate to see your baby cry," Pengra told her. "Elizabeth's been real good about keeping up with the well child visits and the immunizations, so we talk about that, development, what types of new things has she done since I was last here and that type of thing."
The good mom, though, has her own health to consider as well. Pengra said that's also the point of the visits.
Markham is a single mother with a night-shift job that sometimes makes finding time for sleep difficult. Luckily, Markham said, her stepmom helps out a lot by taking care of Roann when Markham needs a few hours of uninterrupted shuteye.
"We talk about Elizabeth and how she's doing, her health," Pengra said. "If she's getting enough sleep, which she's usually not with her schedule."
Both women said the Nurse-Family Partnership is a necessary program in Calhoun County, and statistics might agree. Child health and teen pregnancy continue to be issues here, often at rates that are greater than state averages.
According to Michigan Department of Community Health data, there was a rate of 10.7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in the county from 2009 to 2011, the most recent numbers available in The Coordinating Council of Calhoun County's 2013-14 Community Report Card.
In the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's County Health Rankings and Roadmaps Survey, Calhoun County had a teen birth rate of 49 per 1,000 women between 15 and 19 years old.
Both of those statistics are above state rates.
However, in June, county health officials said things could be improving. While official infant mortality rates for Calhoun from 2010 to 2012 haven't been finalized, Calhoun County Health Officer Jim Rutherford pointed to programs such as county efforts to promote safe sleeping practices for babies, the Infant Safe Sleep Coalition.
The Safe Sleep program was something Markham said she appreciated hearing about.
"I think it's especially important here to really have that one person be with you the whole time," Pengra said. "There's a lot of other good programs, but it fits a niche in the community of something that we didn't have prior to 2011."
Markham said being pregnant was, at first, scary. She said she didn't have a strong relationship with her mother and needed someone to turn to. Pengra, she said, has helped her through that.
"It's really helpful," Markham said. "It helped me. I'm pretty sure as it gets bigger, I guess, it would help a lot of other girls and women be educated and prepared for bringing a new life into the world."
Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com