Local Groups Break Down Women's Barriers to Fight Infant Mortality

June 23, 2013

This is Part III of a series examining the infant mortality rate issue in Charlottesville. Click here for Part I, or click here for Part II.

Fighting Charlottesville's higher-than-average infant mortality rate is a top priority, not just for local health officials but also for a number of other groups helping to break down barriers for pregnant women to access care.

Shawnta Manzano and her 1-year-old daughter Savannah take advantage of one of those groups, the Jefferson Area Children's Health Improvement Program.

"I got with CHiP when I had my son, and then I kind of fell off because I was still young," Manzano said. "I was 15, and I was like, 'Oh, I don't need chip.' Now, I have my daughter and I got back in it and I've seen how helpful they are."

"We're real believers in what makes a success of what we do is the relationship we establish with the moms that we see, that they feel comfortable sharing with us the things that are troubling to them," said Judy Smith, executive director of Jefferson Area CHiP.

The CHiP home visit program helps moms and moms-to-be get the pregnancy care they need made easier by folks going to them. It knocks out a barrier that might prevent healthy pregnancy outcomes.

"I was trying to catch buses everywhere," Manzano said. "I was trying to drive my husband's work van, which is huge."

The work CHiP does is all the more important when considering our area's infant mortality rate. It's higher than both the Virginia and national average at six infant deaths per 1,000 births. Pre-natal and pre-conception care are ways to improve that statistic.

Another resource that works closely with CHiP is WIC, a nutrition program.

"We want to make sure they feel confident in knowing what they should eat," said Kara Watts, the WIC coordinator for the Thomas Jefferson Health District. "We also want to make sure they are connected to resources in the community that will help them with other aspects of the pregnancy."

WIC and CHiP help to break down the barriers that may prevent women from getting pregnancy care they need both before and after birth.

"We want to make sure that she is going to her doctors' appointments," Watts said. "We want to make sure she's eating lots of fruits and veggies -- that's always important for everybody."

That's where the home visit program comes in.

"It's not always easy to admit that you don't feel like getting up and going because you're depressed," Smith said. "So the relationship we establish with them helps to overcome some of those personal, emotional barriers that may prevent it."

"I'm really growing up with them," Manzano said of her kids, "and with CHiP, it's really helpful because they showed me ways to help me develop and how to teach them and how I can be a better mom to them."

Babies of mothers who don't receive prenatal care are three times more likely to be low birthweight and five times more likely to die. So the collaboration among CHiP, WIC, the health department and other groups is pivotal.

"We want to prevent moms from having to worry about the health of their child. we want to make sure that child is healthy so they can pursue whatever they want to in life and be successful at it," Watts said.

And Manzano has seen the rewards.

"CHiP helped ease my mind a lot," she said. "They were like, 'Whatever you put your mind to, you can do. if you need any help with anything, we're here for you.'"

"It's kind of like we're a little family," she said.

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