Prenatal and Baby Love programs
April is Public Health Month, so we're taking an opportunity to spotlight the many services and programs offered by the Haywood County Health Department. The following article spotlights the Prenatal and Baby Love programs.
Chastity Gunter Pace remembers the nurse at the Haywood County Health Department walking in with the news.
“She said `Congratulations, you’re pregnant!” Pace said. “I was 32 years old, I didn’t have any insurance, I had been a drug user… I didn’t know what I was going to do.”A 1994 graduate of Tuscola High School, Pace began using methamphetamine when she was 22 years old. She also used cocaine and smoked marijuana, but meth was her drug of choice. At age 25 she suffered a heart attack and she would survive three overdoses before being arrested in South Carolina and charged with conspiracy to traffic meth, among other things.
That was in March 2005. When she found out she was pregnant in 2006, she was clean and back in Haywood County serving a sentence that required four years of house arrest. She had no idea how she was going to take care of a child. All she knew was that she wanted her baby to be healthy.
Now Pace has been drug-free for three years and nine-month old Birch Mac is doing great. Pace gives all the credit to the programs she was enrolled in at the Haywood County Health Department, and the caring staff members she has met there.
“I would have been lost without them,” Pace said.
In 2007, the Haywood County Health Department provided a wide range of services to 322 women like Pace to help them achieve a healthy and positive childbirth experience. The services begin in the Prenatal Clinic and last through the Baby Love program, which provides maternal care coordination and a host of other services all the way through the pregnancy and after the child is born.
Charlene Carswell, coordinator of the prenatal clinic and one of three health department nurses in the Baby Love program, believes the continuum of care provided through the health department offers eligible pregnant women comprehensive medical services, valuable educational information, and emotional support throughout the pregnancy and the postpartum period.
“In the prenatal clinic we start by getting a complete medical history – the patient, family, the father and his family,” Carswell said. “We also see if they are eligible for Medicaid, we do the lab work, which includes a complete blood count, three-day measles, rubella, syphilis and HIV. It is very detailed.”
Once the initial exam is completed, the patient is usually transferred to Haywood Women’s Center for ongoing care during their pregnancy. A complete physical is performed and the health department assists the patient in applying for such services as the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a Special Supplemental Nutrition Program sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture which provides food to low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, their infants and children up to age five.
The health department then enrolls the patient in the Baby Love program, which provides access to childbirth education classes, counseling and emotional support when the patient feels stressed, medical home visits for the patient and the baby and referrals for services, such as WIC, dental care, dietary evaluation and counseling, and family planning. The Baby Love program is staffed by nurses and paraprofessionals who work with the patient until two months after the child is born. After delivery, the patient and child are referred to Child Service Coordination which entails education on growth and development.
From the very beginning, a big emphasis of the Baby Love program is health education, Carswell said. The program provides a prenatal orientation package that includes nutritional information, what’s going to be happening to the mothers’ bodies at different stages of the pregnancy and risks that can affect the health of mother and baby.
Risks such as smoking and the effects of second hand smoke get quite a bit of emphasis, Carswell said, as do many other health and nutritional issues. The health department works closely with Haywood Regional Medical Center to get the patient and the father enrolled in birth classes.
“I tried to do everything they told me – no caffeine, I didn’t smoke,” Pace said. “I knew how important it was. My husband and I did the child birth classes and they were awesome. They made us both feel real comfortable.”
Once the child is born, the Baby Love program gears up to make sure that the mother’s first few months with her baby go well. The nurses make home visits to provide assistance and counseling on such issues as breastfeeding. The program can provide breast pumps for mothers that need them.
The Baby Love program also helps new mothers adjust emotionally to the stress of having a newborn, including helping the patient address post-partum depression.
Pace said the assistance after Birch Mac was born was particularly helpful.
“I had postpartum depression big time,” Pace said. “They were able to get me some assistance. I did a 360-degree turnaround.”
Though both mother and son are doing well, referral services will continue to be available through Child Service Coordination at the health department until Birch Mac reaches age five.
Pace said she would encourage any woman who is pregnant, or suspects she might be, to contact the health department to find out if they qualify for the kinds of services she received. She said the help she received was instrumental in helping her make in through the pregnancy and give birth to a healthy child.
“I called Charlene many times and she was always there for me,” Pace said. “I don’t know what I would have done without them.”
For more information on the prenatal clinic and the Baby Love program, contact the health department between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at (828) 452-6675.
Did You Know?Picture Cutline Information
Patients who successfully complete the childbirth classes are eligible for a free car seat.
From left, Chastity Gunter Pace; Nurse Charlene Carswell, coordinator of the Haywood County Health Department Prenatal Clinic; and nine-month old Birch Mac Pace.