Issue 7 Stories
Sentara in the Community

Bonding with Babies and Other Moms

Sentara Blue Ridge region hospitals are committed to meeting the needs of new parents as they juggle their changing roles and responsibilities, whether they’re first-time parents or already are busy with their older children.

Several groups sponsored by Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and Sentara RMH Medical Center meet monthly—at the hospitals or off-site—to help families in these times of transition.

Improving Outcomes

One group, Moms’ Meetup for Women of Color (www.bit.ly/moms-meetup), organized by the Sisters Keepers Collective (www.sisterskeeperdoulas.org), meets from 5:30-7 p.m. the first Friday of every month at Pearl Island Catering, located at the Jefferson School City Center in Charlottesville.

Sentara supports the group financially—sponsoring meetings, meals and speakers for the group, which is free to attend—through a grant to the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

Lisa Phillips, who runs a real estate investment business from her home in Charlottesville, appreciates the practical advice she has received from the group’s speakers, particularly regarding finances. She also enjoys the camaraderie she’s found among the other moms who attend.

“I’ve met a lot of great people, and the meetings provide a relaxed setting in which we can interact,” says Phillips, whose daughter, Layla, will turn 2 in September. “We can talk about real-life issues that affect the black community and topics that may be uncomfortable, but are necessary for our own development.”

According to Crystal Johnson, coordinator of Sisters Keepers, moms are welcome to bring all their children to the meetings, where they can enjoy a free dinner and hear advice from speakers on various topics, including nutrition and weight loss, finances, lactation and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“These women want a space where they can bring their children, meet new friends and enjoy great food, and this is what the group is providing for black mamas in Charlottesville,” says Johnson, who herself is a mother of six.

Sisters Keepers also offers free doula services to black women in the Charlottesville area through a grant supported by Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. Rachel Zaslow, executive director of Mother Health International, who created the Sisters Keepers Collective to give black moms support during pregnancy, labor and the postpartum phase.

During pregnancy, doulas can accompany moms to their doctor appointments and help them develop a birth plan, as well as provide support in other ways.

“This gives moms continuity of care, allows them to feel more empowered, and helps them build better bonds with and stronger attachment to their babies,” Zaslow says. “If we can make things easier for them, they can have better outcomes overall.”

It’s that commitment to outcomes that attracted Sentara to the Sisters Keepers program, says Jackie Martin, director of community benefit at Sentara Martha Jefferson. According to the 2016 MAPP2Health report on Virginia’s Planning District 10 (also known as the Thomas Jefferson Health District), African-American moms are more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women in Virginia, and infant mortality is higher for African-American babies.

In light of such facts, the report sets goals of reducing the number of babies born at a low birth weight (indicated as less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces), lowering the number of preterm births and improving prenatal care. Improving access to care and reducing health disparities are community health priorities for both Sentara Martha Jefferson and Planning District 10.

“Sisters Keepers has great outcomes,” Martin says. “They have an amazingly effective model that addresses pregnancy disparities, and we are pleased to support their efforts as part of our commitment to the community.”

“Someone to Talk To”

For the past decade, Reba Brunk has been running the New Moms Ask a Nurse Support Group (www.bit.ly/new-moms-ask-a-nurse) at Sentara RMH Medical Center. Designed for moms and babies 12 months or younger, this free group meets from 1:30-3 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Sentara RMH Atrium in Harrisonburg.

Brunk has been a maternal/baby care nurse for 40 years—along with being a mother of four, grandmother of 15 and great-grandmother of four. She appreciates the opportunity to pass on her knowledge and offer support to new moms.

“It’s helpful for new mothers to know they have someone to talk to,” Brunk says. “These women are often exhausted and sometimes don’t know where to turn for help.”

Among the topics the group discusses are breastfeeding, burping, calming techniques and swaddling. Brunk also teaches parents the Dunstan baby language to help parents interpret the sounds their babies make.

Brunk also provides baby scales, so moms who attend the meetings can check their babies’ growth progress. Occasionally the group will have a party to celebrate milestones; for instance, some moms will bring in snacks to celebrate a baby’s first birthday. The group varies in size from week to week, from about six moms to as many as 25. Mothers whose babies were not born at Sentara RMH are also welcome to attend the group.

Additional free support groups for new parents in the Blue Ridge region include:

Sentara Martha Jefferson:

Basics in Baby Care (www.bit.ly/basics-in-baby-care): This class, which helps parents and grandparents understand newborn characteristics, bathing, swaddling and how to soothe a crying baby, meets at the Sentara Martha Jefferson Outpatient Care Center, third floor, Morris Community Education Room. Check for dates online or call 1-800-SENTARA.

Welcome to Motherhood (www.bit.ly/welcome-to-motherhood): Share the ups and downs of this challenging time. Bring your baby and relax with new friends. Registration isn’t required for this support group, which meets the first and third Thursdays of each month from 10:30 a.m.-noon at the Sentara Martha Jefferson Outpatient Care Center, third floor, Morris Community Education Room.

 Welcome to Parenthood (www.bit.ly/welcome-to-parenthood): Share thoughts and resources with new parents. Registration isn’t required for this support group, which is open to moms and dads with babies under 12 months and meets the second Saturday of every month from 10:30 a.m.-noon at the Sentara Martha Jefferson Outpatient Care Center, third floor, Morris Community Education Room.

Sentara RMH:

Hand-in-Hand Resource Mothers Program (www.bit.ly/hand-in-hand-resource): This program is geared toward moms age 19 and younger. Having a baby can be very difficult for a teenager, as well as for her friends and family, and the father of the baby. The group meets the fourth Monday of the month. Call 540-564-7151 for more information.

Healthy Families of the Blue Ridge (www.bit.ly/healthy-families-blue-ridge): This program, which helps first-time parents learn about how children develop, how to keep children healthy and how to prepare children to do well in school, meets at the Sentara RMH Atrium. Call 540-564-5982 for dates, times and more details.

UPPS and DOWNS Postpartum Stress and Depression Support Group (www.bit.ly/postpartum-support): Open to pregnant and postpartum moms experiencing prenatal or postpartum mood or anxiety issues, this group meets at the Sentara RMH Funkhouser Women’s Center. Check the website for dates and more details.

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