Midwifery, breastfeeding to combat infant mortality

The Marquette Neighborhood Health Center received a federal grant to start a midwifery program to assist pregnant mothers. Photo by Aaron Ledesma/aaron.ledesma@marquette.edu

The federal government awarded the Marquette Neighborhood Health Center a five-year, $1.5 million grant to fight high infant mortality rates in the area with the founding of a nurse-midwifery practice and a breast-feeding support program for at-risk women.

According to the 2010 City of Milwaukee Fetal Infant Mortality Review (FIMR) Report, black infants were nearly three times more likely to die than white infants in Milwaukee from 2005 to 2008.

“In Milwaukee, these deaths are concentrated in a few zip codes, where unsurprisingly the levels of poverty, joblessness and other social problems are also extremely high,” according to the report.

The 53233 zip code, which includes Marquette’s campus, was one of the three zip codes with the highest density of infant mortality in Milwaukee.

“Our hope is that by creating … a place where women in our community feel comfortable, they will seek care sooner,” said Margaret Faut Callahan, dean of the College of Nursing.

Callahan said research shows two areas of patient care the center will focus on can make a difference in infant mortality is prenatal care and “pregnancy centering care,” which deals with the patient and her ability to care for herself.

Kelly Campbell, director of the center, said pregnancy centering care increases accountability of the patients to take care of themselves. Campbell said women can take their own blood pressure and weight at appointments in order to take an active role in their health.

She also said patients will have access to open appointments for prenatal care and support groups for other pregnant women.

“They develop a kinship with this group of women who are going through the continuum with them,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the nurse-midwifery practice that will be started from the grant will provide a few paid positions and will host about 175 midwifery graduate students over five years with an estimated 8,000 hours of experience.

Margaret Berner, the project director and nurse manager at the center, wrote the grant proposal in part to bring a midwifery program to Marquette.

“Nurse midwives, it has been shown time after time, decrease (the chances of) infant mortality with their care,” Berner said.

In addition to the practice, the center plans to start a breastfeeding peer counselor program to assist new mothers in the first year of their childrens lives.

Karen Robinson, a professor in the College of Nursing, wrote her dissertation on breastfeeding.

“Breast milk is the most optimal form of nutrition for a newborn,” Robinson said.

She said breast milk benefits infants by building a stronger immune system decreasing the number of infections in an infant. She also said breastfed infants are less likely to develop respiratory problems.

“Despite the direct link of better health benefits from breast milk for vulnerable infants, breastfeeding rates remain dismal among African-American women,” Robinson said.

Robinson said breast milk has been shown to have an impact on decreasing death and disease or illness for all infants regardless of race. She said fewer breastfed infants die of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) compared to infants fed with formula.

“It is through the implementation of these services, we plan to help reduce the maternal and infant health disparities that exist between African-American and Caucasian women in Milwaukee,” Robinson said.