By LISA EISENHAUER
The Maternity onto Motherhood program at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, aims to give mothers the birthing experience they want. "We call it birth by design," says Jenny Eckardt, program coordinator.
Jessica Young drew on the expertise of lactation specialists in the Maternity onto Motherhood program at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She's shown with her daughter Jubilee.
The program, known as MOM, includes prenatal classes that cover what to expect during pregnancy and delivery, tours of the hospital's suites and lactation consultation. Participants hear about their many options, such as care from a midwife, a water birth, circumcision for a baby boy and means of pain relief during delivery.
"I always tell patients 'You don't have a choice unless you know what your choices are,'" Eckardt says. "I think when they have that knowledge they're empowered, and empowerment really can lead to much better outcomes."
In addition, Eckardt offers mothers-to-be and their partners or support teams referrals to services outside the hospital such as new parent groups, diaper banks and nutritional assistance programs.
She's sensitive in how she presents those resources. "I don't say this is a resource you have to use or need to use," she explains. "I say 'These are the resources that are out there, do you think this might be helpful?' And then they can make the decision for themselves."
Support at no cost
Since MOM started in October 2020, 60% of the women who have given birth at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital have taken part in at least some aspect of the program, which extends until the baby turns 1. Most participants are first time mothers, but Eckardt says sometimes women who have delivered elsewhere sign up so they can see the facilities and hear about the available services.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the prenatal classes have been held virtually. Starting this month, participants will have the option of attending the sessions in person.
Jenny Eckardt talks with Chase and Johanna Fitzgerald about breastfeeding baby Adalynn, at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Eckardt, a labor and delivery nurse, coordinates the hospital's Maternity onto Motherhood, or MOM, program that provides a range of education and assistance to expectant mothers.
Only a few couples took part in the classes at first; now about 15 couples attend each month. "I've had families from as far as Spokane, Washington; Washington, D.C.; and New York participate in my classes because they've found it out there on the internet and it was available," Eckardt says.
Some of the participants are couples who are becoming parents through surrogates, and some of those surrogates participate in MOM programming.
The classes, like all aspects of the MOM program, are free. Families aren't charged and insurers aren't billed. Eckardt says insurance doesn't even come up, unless families have questions about it. "It has no bearing on their care from me at all and what resources I offer them," she says.
Eckardt's main role at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital is as a labor and delivery nurse. She volunteered to be the MOM coordinator and she schedules the program's courses around her nursing duties. She also gives in-person tours of the hospital's obstetrics unit.
Grateful new mom
Jessica Young of Eau Claire is a MOM alumna. She learned she was pregnant with her first child about a week before much of the nation went into lockdown because of the pandemic.
Young says the support she got from Eckardt and Teresa DeMoe, a registered nurse and lactation specialist with the hospital's Women and Infants Center, helped her through some difficult days. She started to have "very intense emotions" each time she breastfed her newborn daughter, Jubilee.
The nurses helped her identify what she was experiencing as a condition known as dysphoric milk ejection reflex, or D-MER for short. As Young explains: "You get really sad when you breastfeed, is the long story short." The condition has no identified medical treatments.
"Quite often Jenny and Teresa would check in on me to see how I was doing, and they would give me recommendations," Young says. "I really appreciated that because in the middle of a pandemic being a new mom, it was really tough and then to be going through that additionally, it was hard."
Adalynn Fitzgerald was born April 11 at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Her parents took part in the Maternity onto Motherhood program.
Young breastfed for 14 months. She says Jubilee, born in November 2020, is "fearless right now. She's walking and climbing."
Good practices, outcomes
Good outcomes like Young's are what MOM is all about, Eckardt says. The program was initiated by Maria Green, director of HSHS Sacred Heart's Women and Infants Center. Green based it on a similar program at HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital Highland in Southern Illinois and one at another hospital where she worked.
Eckardt sees the program as a complement to Green's efforts to standardize protocols and implement quality improvement initiatives at the Women and Infants Center. Along with discussing the birthing process and delivery options, Eckardt helps patients with gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and other maternity complications gain a better understanding of the conditions and follow through on their providers' recommendations to navigate them. She also helps to educate mothers on postpartum issues and reasons to reach out to their providers.
The MOM program provides bereavement support to mothers and families after the loss of a pregnancy or newborn.
MOM was launched in conjunction with the start of a breast milk depot and dispensary. That program is a partnership between HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital and Mother's Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, a nonprofit based in Elk Grove, Illinois. In its first year, the dispensary at the hospital supplied 500 gallons of donated, pasteurized milk to babies born at the hospital or to the public for purchase.
Eckardt is a mother of three adult children and due to become a grandmother this summer. She says she would like to have had a program like MOM back when she was new to motherhood. It might have even helped her avoid the emergency cesarean section she had for her first delivery.
These days, many of the women who deliver at HSHS Sacred Heart are in their 30s, older than in past decades. Eckardt says these women are usually savvy about using the internet to get information about childbirth and delivery but nevertheless eager to have the support of the MOM program.
"They can get information at the click of a button, but I think having someone validate that information is really helpful, too," she says.
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