Valdosta Daily Times

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September 11, 2010

Health officials, mothers battle Lowndes’ high infant mortality rate



Baby Luv (Lowndes Unique Victories) has been in operation for three years. Through the March of Dimes, Lowndes County Board of Health gets $50,000 a year to administer the program.

Baby Luv has 80 women in the program, though program leaders typically try to reach 120 women each year.

Any pregnant woman who is determined to be at high risk of having a problem pregnancy or birth are admitted into the program. So are any black women.

“Wherever you live, African-American mothers have a higher chance of having a baby that dies in the first year of life,” Feldman said, “and nobody really understands totally why that is.”

There are theories — some highly controversial — but none display any concrete answers as to why the infant mortality rate is higher for black babies.

“One big reason is that African-American women are more likely to have a low birth weight baby and low birth weight babies are more likely to die in the first year of life,” Feldman said.

The goal of Baby Luv is to reduce the rate of infant mortality by 20 percent and the rate of low birth weight by 10 percent by this year.

The program offers intensive case management and involvement with the mother during pregnancy and during the first year of the baby’s life. The program provides a comprehensive education system that covers issues such as early labor, immunizations, pediatrician visits, proper bedding for cribs, car-seat safety, nutrition and other maternal issues.

Women are expected to participate in educational sessions, keep all doctor’s appointments, and to be available for home nurse visits and phone calls.

The program is voluntary and women that are referred do not have to participate.

During the program’s three years, Baby Luv has accepted 120 women who have given birth to 120 babies, Feldman said.

None of those babies have died, Feldman said, but some of them have been low birth weight.

The mothers within the Baby Luv program can be both first-time mothers or those that already have children, said Lisa Jones, registered nurse and case management staff member for Baby Luv.

If it is the first pregnancy, the mother is usually deemed high risk through pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes or has suffered from a miscarriage.

Expectant mothers are referred to Baby Luv through Prenatal Case Management. If a pregnant woman falls into one of the categories that is deemed high risk, she is referred to Baby Luv and, if there is space, taken in, Jones said.

Charisma Myers, 28, is six months into her third pregnancy.

Myers was referred to Baby Luv as she suffers from asthma and cervical cancer cells were found during the first months of her third pregnancy.

At the time, Myers said she had no idea that her asthma could affect the baby’s health. Since becoming a part of Baby Luv, she said she has learned that not only is it hereditary but the drugs she takes to manage the asthma can affect the child growing inside of her.

Jones conducts home visits every three months. The visits, Jones said, are a personal touch, a way to reach out and remind the mother that someone is here for them.

The home visits allow the women to discuss whatever issue they are having, be it emotional or medical, she said.

“We tell them at the beginning (that) we are not going to hound you. We are not going to hunt you down,” Jones said. “We never go into the home looking for things that are bad or looking for situations to make her life worse. If there is a situation, we are there to help her.”

A staff member calls once a month to get information regarding doctors visits as well, she said.

Though Feldman is excited about the good results Baby Luv is producing, she is worried that the program reaches only a portion of the population in need.

With the future of the Baby Luv program uncertain, funds are renewed each year, donations and volunteers are always welcome, Jones said.

Read the full story in Sunday's TIMES on newsstands and through home delivery.

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