Like most soon-to-be new parents, Pete Natseway and Celesta Limberhand-Natseway had a lot of questions as they awaited the birth of their first child.
The couple got one-on-one support through the Spokane Regional Health District’s Nurse Family Partnership program, which uses evidence-based approaches to improve maternal and early childhood health.
“We just thought it would be a great resource, and it has been,” Limberhand-Natseway said of their decision to enroll in the program.
Through the voluntary program, public health nurses visit the homes of low-income, first-time mothers, supporting the physical, mental and emotional health of moms and babies.
It provides the parents with reliable, sound parenting information, something that is important to them as they raise their now 17-month-old son, Theodore Natseway, a happy, thriving toddler who loves music and travels everywhere with his parents.
“We really focus on the mother,” said program manager Sue Shultz. “We want them to be healthy during pregnancy. We also want the mom to develop parenting strategies that will enhance the growth and development of their baby, but also to kind of think about what they want out of their lives.”
Now, more Spokane families will receive support through the program. Increased funds from Washington state’s Home Visiting Service Account will allow the program to serve an additional 25 Spokane County families enrolled in the state Department of Social and Health Services’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
To improve health outcomes for vulnerable moms and babies, the nurses provide information on childbirth, basic infant care, parenting strategies and bonding, sleep safety, feeding, vaccinations, babies’ growth and developmental milestones, and more. The visits start in early pregnancy, initially focusing on relationship building between the nurse and family, and continue until the child’s second birthday.
“It’s really reassuring to have a licensed professional in the house, face to face, that can give you the correct information,” Natseway said. “They just make the process really easy.”
During a visit, the nurse might weigh the baby to ensure he or she is growing well, do developmental screenings, offer the mom specific play activities that will encourage baby’s language and motor development or give guidance on how and when to introduce solid foods.
“They really have a partner with their nurse that helps them navigate pregnancy and then parenting, and they become very engaged and involved,” Schultz said. “It’s very much relationship based.”
More than 30 years of research from randomized, controlled trials show participants in similar programs nationwide demonstrated: significantly improved prenatal health; fewer subsequent pregnancies; increased pregnancy intervals; increased maternal employment and less reliance on assistance programs; improved school readiness; reduced involvement in crime; less child abuse, neglect and injuries; and healthier habits, including reduced smoking and alcohol use, and improved diets.
“It is really considered the gold standard as far as evidence-based programs, and that is because of the amount of rigorous testing that has been done with this model,” Schultz said.
The nurses can also help with child proofing the home. A program trial saw a 56 percent reduction in emergency room visits for accidents and poisonings.
“There’s a big focus on safety, and I think that is one of the really positive outcomes of the program,” said Jan Bostian, a public health nurse who visits the Natseway home.
Among other observed outcomes were a 48 percent reduction in child abuse and neglect, a 67 percent reduction in behavioral and intellectual programs at age 6, and 35 percent fewer hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.
These improved outcomes are critical in Spokane County, a community affected by high rates of multigenerational poverty, mental health issues and maternal smoking, Schultz said.
“Many of the families we work with have a lot of barriers to successful parenting,” she said. “We want to work with the family to move forward, and participation in a program like this can have some real positive outcomes.”
Schultz said for the nurses, there is a lot of satisfaction in working with families and seeing change over time.
“We are making a difference,” she said. “We are seeing babies born healthier. We are seeing toddlers thrive in their environment. We’re seeing young women maturing and growing and going back to school or entering the work force. It is a really positive program.”
The Spokane Regional Health District has offered the program since 2008.
When asked if she would recommend other eligible families participate in the program, Limberhand-Natseway said, “I’d definitely tell them to do it.”
As Theordore fell asleep in the comfort of his mother’s arms, Limberhand-Natseway said “I only wish we could do the program with a second child.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.