Seeking to remove barriers to infant and maternal health in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, Boston Fellow Madeline Wetterhahn has established a prenatal group in collaboration with La Alianza Hispana, a local social service provider.
Wetterhahn’s program provides peer support, essential pre- and postnatal education, and helps participants access maternal health and related services and resources—such as free breast pumps, WIC benefits (the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), a bilingual phone app to help better manage their pregnancy, and housing application assistance. It also makes referrals for off-site health care for program participants who are undocumented.
The goal is to equip mothers and mothers-to-be with everything they need to have a healthy pregnancy and to nurture a healthy baby. That means educating them on a range of issues, including the physical and physiological changes pregnancy brings about; how to follow a healthy diet; keeping physically active; avoiding environments where drug, alcohol, and/or tobacco consumption takes place; the importance of pre- and postnatal medical care; and stress management.
“Our groups were designed to encourage participants to feel comfortable asking any question, and to offer and accept group input on pregnancy or parenting challenges,” says Wetterhahn, a student at Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts Public Health and Professional Degree Program. “We want them to be better able to discuss—with friends, health care providers, and family—not just what the ideal practice is for every situation they face as parents, but what is workable and best for their own families.”
Wetterhahn’s interest in maternal and infant health stems from a medical crisis in her family when she was in grade school, when her twin cousins were delivered prematurely at 25.5 weeks. One did not survive. “I remember being told how lucky it was that my surviving cousin experienced as few complications as she did, which is true,” says Wetterhahn. “Looking back on it, luck played a smaller role than continuous access to good care, but for a lot of other parents and children luck is what they have. I see my cousin, who’s doing remarkably, and it’s clear how impactful quality pre- and perinatal care is—and how critical it is that comprehensive reproductive healthcare is universally accessible.”
After her Fellowship year, Wetterhahn will turn her project over to a rising fourth-year medical student at Tufts, who will carry out later stages of the program and ensure its sustainability in the near future. Additionally, other partners, like the Tufts Interpreter Program will also stay involved with the project. In seeking to create long-term sustainability, Wetterhahn is focused on strengthening the interagency connections that have developed around her Fellowship project. “This project has connected new organizations, and strengthening these ties is a priority for sustainability, and for increasing communities’ comfort and trust in us.”
Wetterhahn says she is also encouraged by the doubling in participation numbers she has seen over the course of her project. “Clearly, there is a demand for maternal and infant health programming and support, and a need to more permanently fund similar services.”
As a Fellow, Wetterhahn was most surprised to learn just how much backstage maneuvering is required to successfully implement a direct service project.
“This has shown me how critical it is to get involved in improving health policy,” she says. “That often it’s the behind-the-scenes work that makes the difference: planning, directing, advocating.”