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Kori Eberle calls early and steady prenatal care the “best gift a baby can receive” for healthy early childhood development.
That’s why Eberle coordinates home visits, screenings, and parenting and health education for vulnerable women from pregnancy to their baby’s second birthday as part of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District (Metro Health) Healthy Start program in San Antonio (63.2% Latino population).
Eberle and Metro Health’s Healthy Start program want most of all to reduce disparities in the local infant death rate, which is higher for low-income, Latino, and African American families.
Sadly, Eberle found that not enough moms-to-be know about their resources or get the help they need to ensure a healthy delivery and proper early brain development.
How could Eberle and Metro Health Healthy Start find a fun way to spread the word?
Saving Babies by Helping Moms
Kori Eberle, program manager of Metro Health Healthy Start, was concerned about the neighborhood level disparities in San Antonio’s infant mortality rate that is nearly double the national average when looking at Latino and African American populations specifically.
In low-income, largely Latino and predominately African American areas of the city, the rate is as high as a staggering 20%.
Latinos living in poverty are a risk of not receiving the care and services they need, which may have negative effects on infant health. Of particular concern is the intense period of child’s brain and organ system development that occurs during pregnancy, continuing in the first three years of life, and resulting in long-lasting consequences into their adulthood.
Prenatal care and family support are key to reducing these rates and connecting families to the services they need during pregnancy and their child’s early years.
That’s where Healthy Start comes in, particularly in three areas of the city with the highest infant mortality rates—Northeast (14 census tracts), South (14 census tracts), and West (29 census tracts). (see Table 1. Below)
“They can really help you out with everything – I am so proud to be a part of it,” Rodriguez told the Rivard Report in 2014. “I am now visiting homes and helping women who don’t know how to get the resources, teaching them to better themselves and providing them with general information from month-to-month visits, providing needed supplies, and more.”
But not enough moms-to-be are aware of these services.
“We have great prenatal support and resources in San Antonio,” Eberle said. “But people don’t always know what they are or if they are eligible.”
How could Eberle raise awareness to bring down the infant mortality rate and promote healthy child development?
Their big idea: more community baby showers.
Community Baby Showers for Moms
Community baby showers were not a new concept among maternal and infant health professionals.
In San Antonio, Metro Health’s Perinatal HIV program Healthy Beats hosted community baby showers, but there remained a need for more events, particularly in high-risk areas.
In 2013, previous staff of the Healthy Start team included community baby showers as part of a grant proposal to Healthy Start’s primary funder, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal Child Health Bureau.
They got the expanded grant in 2014. The new grant required “collective impact,” which means bringing people together regularly to create lasting social change on a greater scale. Healthy Start added a place-based Neighborhood’s initiative, a Healthy Start Dad’s program and amped up the activities of their existing maternal-child health focused community coalition Healthy Families Network.
That’s when Eberle had the idea to fuse the traditional community baby shower concept and make it more holistic health and neighborhood-based.
She and her team believed a community baby shower could bring mothers-to-be and supportive pregnancy partners including dads and other family or friends together to not only celebrate babies, but more importantly to access city and other services, including healthcare enrollment, health screenings and sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing, oral health, proper sleeping habits, lactation support, literacy, immunizations, and health education.
“We already had great programs and initiatives going on with the health department and city partners, and we wanted to introduce them to community members even earlier in their pregnancies,” Eberle said.
Eberle also thought the baby showers could serve as a vital piece of Healthy Start’s new neighborhood healthy hub concept and Resident Leadership Teams, because she believes you can’t have healthy babies without healthy families and neighborhoods with access to healthy foods, active spaces, family support, quality early childhood education, and more.
Neighborhood healthy hubs feature events to bring all of these health resources and services together for local families. The Resident Leadership Teams plan healthy hub events and other community, hands-on projects to connect with neighbors, local partners, and work together to transform their neighborhood into a healthy neighborhood.
Vanessa Rodriguez, Neighborhood Engagement Supervisor with Healthy Start, loved the idea.
To merge the community baby showers with the neighborhood healthy hub plans, Eberle and Rodriguez wanted the showers to be place-based and focus on the same three target areas previously identified by Healthy Start as census tracts with the highest infant mortality rates.
This meshed well with other Healthy Start programs and events, like monthly Parent Talks and Dad’s Talks groups to learn about healthy physical, emotional, and social development of children. Baby shower attendees would be invited to this and other Healthy Start events like the annual Baby Buggy Walk that occurs every October as a celebration of life for San Antonio babies.
“In addition to celebrating life, we want to build on the work we are already doing to connect families to resources and services where they live on an ongoing basis,” the team said.
The First Community Baby Shower
They launched the first community baby shower in December 2015 for 21 moms-to-be.
Since then, they have hosted 13 Community Baby Showers, with an average of 100 attendees and 20 vendor agencies. The idea is contagious – CentroMed, a system of primary care clinics, and Superior, a managed health-care company, are also hosting community baby showers on a regular basis.
“We follow a traditional baby shower concept with games and prizes, and we try to pack as much education into the agenda as we can, and connect families to ongoing resources in their neighborhood,” Eberle said.
The first event was held at a Healthy Start site, but the team agreed that they wanted to host future events at community sites with more community involvement in the planning stages.
What if their Resident Leadership Team were to get involved in planning the community baby showers as a healthy hub in their neighborhood?
Neighbors Now Plan Community Baby Showers
Healthy Start’s Resident Leadership Teams meet publicly once a month in the three at-risk areas.
The meetings offer residents a forum to discuss community issues and organize resident-led community projects to address those issues. The goal is to increase resident leaders’ community engagement and build their organization and leadership skills while providing a service to the community.
Eberle and Rodriguez wanted to provide resident leaders with the opportunity to participate in planning the baby showers, not only as a community project, but also as a healthy hub and as a way to connect with other neighbors and explore community issues and assets.
“[Resident Leaders] have the best connections in neighborhoods and it is a great experience for resident leaders to invite local partners to participate in the resource fair portion of the baby shower,” Eberle said.
At a planned Community Baby Shower in August, a Resident Leadership Team member will speak about her experience as a mother in Healthy Start and her role developing community projects.
“Eventually we hope to get to where resident leaders, with help from their community, throw community baby showers themselves and they become sustainable,” Eberle said.
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.