Monday, March 15, 2010

First Cabbage Patch Class

Monday, February 8, 2010

I’ve started to cover the pregnancy beat in Madison County, which – as far as social services are concerned – means the teen pregnancy beat because, according to Beth Heath (Co. Nurse Mgr.), most of the moms they serve are teens.

Tonight I went to my first Cabbage Patch class, a program that Beth started when she was in Jackson Co. and that she replicated in Madison Co. (There's Beth above, signing the attendance sheet for one of the moms-to-be.)

Cabbage Patch is a weekly class for expectant mothers (and their partners and families) that runs nine weeks. While it isn’t expressly designed for teens, the majority of the group is teen-aged (some are very young teenagers) and the remainder is 20-21 years old.

Each class is on a different topic, such as nutrition, newborn care, and delivery. There are pre-tests and post-tests on the topic at the beginning and end of each lesson from which the district’s epidemiologist collects data on the outcomes of the class.

Since the program has begun, Madison County has seen reductions in preterm labor, low birth weight and prenatal smoking, and increases in birth control use, spacing of pregnancies, and initiation and duration of breastfeeding.

The program itself is a portrait of the ways in which public health is overworked and under-resourced. First of all because there is statistical evidence of the value of this preventive program, but the state still does not have money to invest in it.

When Beth started the program, with then-county nurse manager Pam Smith, who is now the District Nurse, there was no public health funding for prenatal classes, so if they wanted to proceed, they would need to find grant money on their own. They were finalists for a March of Dimes grant though they did not get it. And they were recipients of a Jackson EMC Operation Roundup grant for two years, and they were able to stretch the money over three years.

The current session of Cabbage Patch ends March 22, and it will only run again if the clinic gets another grant.

Pam or Beth teaches most of the lessons, and a few are covered by other specialists, such as a certified breastfeeding peer counselor. The grant money, then, is needed for incentives. Each week, every expectant mother gets some really nice swag for attending the class, such as a Moby Wrap, the famous What to Expect When You’re Expecting, ear thermometers, bath thermometers, and – following their nutrition lesson – a gift card for a local supermarket with which they are challenged to buy healthy foods that they wouldn’t normally buy. But the pièce de résistance, and certainly a major stimulus for most students’ perfect attendance, is the new car seat they receive on the last night.

The final lesson is two hours long and given by a certified car seat technician who properly installs the seat in each expectant mother’s car.

Each county clinic is required to stay open late one night per week, so Cabbage Patch classes are held on their late clinic night when Beth would be there anyway. But Pam is there on her own time. And both she and Beth, as well as other members of the clinic staff, regularly and voluntarily stay past 7 because of this class. And they make runs to Wal-Mart for the incentives and research and write grants often on their own time as well. As Pam said, “Beth and I both live in Madison County, so the way we see it is that we’re just doing something for the community.”


When I asked Dean Phillip Williams of the College of Public Health why anyone would go to work for the state or at county clinics when they can get so much more money working for federal agencies or in the private sector, he said, “They are just very dedicated.”

I’ll say.

More to come about the moms-to-be at Cabbage Patch.

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