NFP program a key part of reducing infant mortality

Published 12:18 am Monday, September 28, 2015

By Partha Daughtridge and Rosie Allen Ryan

For the Salisbury Post

A first birthday is a big milestone. In the first 12 months of a child’s life, a baby develops a personality, learns to crawl and even starts to speak a few words. For some families in our state, though, first birthdays aren’t celebrated. For too many families in North Carolina, children don’t make it to their first birthdays.

September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month, and while our state’s infant mortality rate is on the decline, more work remains to be done. The latest statistics from the state Department of Health and Human Services show that the infant mortality rate in our state was 7 deaths for every 1,000 births in 2013 — down 5.4 percent from the previous year. In Rowan County, the rate was 6.7 deaths for every 1,000 births in 2013, which is below the state average, but still in the bottom 20 percent of counties across the state.

Preterm birth and accidental injuries are two of the leading causes of infant mortality, but they are easily avoidable with proper education and care during pregnancy. Mothers with access to health care services and support understand the importance of attending regular prenatal visits, quitting smoking and preparing a safe home for the baby’s arrival.

We have a program in North Carolina providing mothers with support at these critical moments. Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), an evidence-based home visitation program, is helping low-income, first-time mothers in 24 counties have healthier pregnancies, provide responsible and competent care, and become more economically stable.

Through NFP, each mother is partnered with a registered nurse early in pregnancy. The nurse works closely with the mother from pregnancy through the child’s second birthday. The program is provided to low-income mothers and has expanded tremendously — from 11 counties to 24 in just five years — due to its successful outcomes.

NFP is present in our state thanks to the wise investment of public and private partners, as well as support from the state legislature. Independent research proves that every dollar invested in the program can yield more than five dollars in return. We thank the state and the partners for their continued commitment to the program, and we hope to see greater investment for program expansion in the future.

Though NFP is not the only way to reduce the infant mortality rate in our state, it is certainly a key step in the right direction. NFP has been serving mothers well in North Carolina since 2000. Expansion of the program to more counties is crucial to improving health and well-being as well as the economic outlook of our state.

While NFP is not currently operating a program in Rowan County, the program is certainly something that we can all support. It is a program that ensures a healthy start and a strong future for all families involved. NFP has great potential to reduce infant mortality in our state and to improve many communities as a whole. Join us in supporting first birthdays, second birthdays and beyond.

The authors are co-chairs of the NC Nurse-Family Partnership Statewide Advisory Council. Rosie Allen Ryan is the former president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse NC and a former executive director for Smart Start Rowan.