Whether they gave birth, used a surrogate, or adopted, first-time parents can face a lot of uncertainty in the first few months with a newborn. Early check-ins with pediatricians and OB-GYNs ensure that mom and baby are healthy, but those visits aren’t always focused on proper breastfeeding techniques or making sure parents are getting enough sleep. On Wednesday, First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray announced New Family Home Visits, an initiative to make all first-time parents eligible for up to six home visits from health care providers, community educators, and/or doulas, depending on their needs.
“Home visits are very different than trying to talk through your issues with your pediatrician, in a 10-to-15 minute—at best—office visit,” says Emily Cohen-Moreira, a doula serving the greater New York City area. “Having somebody come into your home is a really different experience. They’re helping you in your own space, they’re checking out the setup that you have. They’re helping troubleshoot to think about how to make things more efficient for you, and more comfortable for you.”
Cohen-Moreira adds that when parents are able to get their questions answered, and feel more confident, the baby benefits. “[Parents] can really learn how to feed well, learn how to use a wrap or a baby carrier, which is great for bonding,” she says. “Higher confidence within the parent, higher breast-feeding rates, all of that will have, obviously, a positive impact on this baby’s health and development.”
Research shows that home visits after birth can help improve interactions between mothers and their infants, and reduce the severity of postpartum depression. A randomized control trial also found that 18-year-olds who had a nurse home visit after their own birth were better able to understand information, had stronger math skills, and overall stronger cognitive outcomes. Home visits are also linked to lower rates of child abuse.
The city of Durham in North Carolina launched a home visit program in 2008, now known as Family Connects Durham, that provides between one and three home visits from registered nurses to families with newborns. These visits begin about three weeks after birth, and include a health assessment of both mother and baby, and an anxiety and depression screening. Nurses also provide information on newborn care. Family Connects has also partnered with cities in Illinois and Arkansas, among others.
According to a press release, NYC’s home visit program will similarly provide health education, mental health screenings for anxiety and depression, information infant feeding and infant safe sleep, and referrals to public assistance programs. The home visits begin prenatally, and can continue until the baby is two months old.
Cohen-Moreira says having more than one visit is helpful, because it allows for education on different subjects. “When I see somebody in the first week, we’re going through proper latching positioning, and is it going well, is the baby transferring milk,” she says. “If I see somebody a week or two later, maybe now we’re trying to think about systems and efficiencies for the parents and how to optimize everybody getting the most rest and normal expectations about taking a baby out or going over pumping.”
NYC’s program is scheduled to launch this spring in Brooklyn, and plans to reach all Brooklyn families with their first baby by 2021. The city aims to make the program available in all five boroughs by 2024.
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