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Public Health Column for the Times-News

Infant care classes build parent confidence

Published: Wednesday, November 4, 2015

By KIMBERLY HORTON
Health Department columnist

It's been a long time since I've taken care of a newborn, but I can still remember feeling overwhelmed with basic baby care when my husband and I brought our first child home from the hospital. Fortunately, I had my mom to help, but even so, I still had concerns and questions.

Unlike new electronics, appliances, furniture and automobiles, new babies don't come with individual instruction manuals. "It's a learn-as-you-go, practice-makes-perfect, kind of process. It's not uncommon to find parents of all backgrounds and ages who are unprepared for the daily tasks of caring for their infant," said Health Educator Kaye Brownlee.

Many new moms are surprised by their response to the exhausting physical and emotional experience of a newborn. Some moms are all alone in figuring out how to breastfeed or appropriately dress their baby for the weather, for example. Other moms may be confused by the normal mixed feelings that come with having to adjust to a new lifestyle and responsibilities.

Care managers from the Care Coordination for Children (CC4C) program see many different levels of knowledge about infant care and a range of emotions in their interactions with the families they follow. Part of a care manager's job is to offer information to the family about child development and parenting, and that can sometimes be tricky.

"When I see something that a new parent may not be aware of, I ask them if I can make a suggestion," said Olga Escobar, registered public health nurse and CC4C care manager. "But I'm also very encouraging and tell them they're doing a great job as I work with them. Praise and encouragement go a long way."

The growing need for instruction in basic infant care for their clients brought about a search for what was currently available in our community and input from the Department of Social Services and the Children and Family Resource Center. When nothing was found that matched what was needed, the health department decided to offer classes.

"We saw a need in the community for a class about basic infant care," said Shelby Ball, RN, CC4C care manager. "We talked with other agencies to see what could be offered, and eventually decided that since we teach this material every day in our jobs, we could offer classes for the public."

To get the classes rolling, Brownlee spent considerable time researching infant care educational materials and selecting topics that seemed to be basic and important to know. She then created a series of two one-hour classes called Parenting ABCs-Building Blocks for Basic Infant Care.

Topics covered in the first class include holding and swaddling baby, bathing, diapering, dressing, packing the diaper bag, nutrition including breastfeeding and oral hygiene. The second class addresses baby's crying and ways to calm, sleeping positions and SIDS prevention, home and car seat safety, well child development schedule and when to call your healthcare provider. Perhaps just as important, the topic of self-care and stress reduction for the caregiver is included too.

If you think these classes are just for pregnant women or new moms, please reconsider. Others who could benefit are fathers, grandparents and anyone who could be a caregiver to a baby-babysitters included. Even those having their second or third baby could learn a new skill or review what they have already experienced firsthand in caring for their baby. After all, infant care recommendations have changed over the years, and the number of new child care products available today is amazing.

Those leading the classes are amazing too because each is an expert with hands-on experience in the topic they teach. Home and car seat safety are taught by Brownlee who is also the child passenger safety technician for the health department. Nutritionist Pam Foster covers nutrition, of course, but with more depth about breastfeeding and oral hygiene. And Care Managers/Registered Nurses Olga Escobar, Kim Ball and Shelby Ball teach the remaining building blocks of basic infant care. Together they have created a classroom atmosphere that is casual and relaxed with plenty of opportunity to ask questions and practice skills.

Building the caregiver's confidence and skills in caring for an infant is the goal, but the end result is a safer and healthy baby. This is particularly important since unintentional injuries have been a leading cause of death of young children for years. Recently, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Public Health announced that North Carolina's Infant Mortality Rate for 2014 was 7.1 per 1,000 live births, a slight increase from the lowest rates recorded in 2010 and 2013. Infant mortality rate compares the number of deaths of infants under one year old in a given year per 1,000 live births in the same year. In Henderson County, the infant mortality rate of 3.6 deaths per 1,000 live births is low.

"Although we can't take all the credit, our prenatal care clinical services and care management efforts play a significant role with these positive outcomes," said Steve Smith, health director. "WIC, school health, communicable disease, immunizations and others are also in the mix."

This new class series should prove to be another tool in keeping infant mortality rates low. "Learning these basic yet vital skills can aid parents in being better prepared, more confident and more aware of keeping their infant healthy and safe," said Brownlee.

The classes are free and open to anyone. They are held on the first and third Mondays of each month, from 1 -2 p.m. at the health department. Parents and caregivers can call 694-6066 to register.


Kimberly Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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