Empowering Mothers & Babies

First Year Cape Fear seeks to end disparities

Dr Beste Story

Black babies statistically are at higher risk than white babies of dying before their first birthday, and local health care experts are working together to close the gap by raising awareness and improving maternal health.

“The ultimate goal is to get rid of racial disparities and decrease poor birth outcomes for both moms and babies,” says DR. JANALYNN BESTE of First Year Cape Fear, a coordination of community health workers and nonprofits in New Hanover, Pender, and Columbus counties. “We have a pretty good handle on what some of the things are that will derail that – access and education and care for women after delivery.”

First Year Cape Fear grew from an infant mortality and maternal health task force, and in 2020 developed a focus of working with minority and low-income women at higher risk of poor birth outcomes, says Beste, director of New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s family residency program.

In North Carolina, the infant mortality rate was 12.5 for Black babies compared with 4.7 for white babies, according to 2019 statistics from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Black babies are born prematurely at a higher rate than white babies in North Carolina, the DHHS research shows, with about 14.3% of Black babies born before 37 weeks compared with about 9.5% of white babies.

And Black women die from childbirth at a higher rate than white women, with national statistics showing 41.7 pregnancy-related deaths for Black women among 100,000 live births compared with 13.4 for white women, according to 2014-2017 figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s part of the main reason of the program – to see what we can figure out and how we can empower these moms to speak up and also how we can help providers be more aware when the mom is telling them, ‘Hey, I have a problem … there’s something wrong,’” says perinatal community health worker COURTNEY FLOYD.

Prematurity is a leading cause of infant death and treating mothers’ underlying medical conditions and getting women into prenatal care earlier can improve chances of a healthy delivery, Beste says.

First Year Cape Fear held a childbirth education program and community health worker-doula program over the last year, including about thirty women in each.

Floyd works with women throughout their pregnancy and into their child’s first year of life, and she coordinates care with Beste and local doulas. Her role includes educating mothers, answering questions, and connecting them to resources such as nutrition programs.

Floyd also works with Chocolate Milk of Wilmington, a local breastfeeding support group for women of color.

“We have all of these different support groups but none of them are directly specifically for Black women or women of color except for Chocolate Milk,” Floyd says. “There you don’t have to carry any barriers or explain anything because we all just understand as women of color things that don’t have to be explained.”

It’s important to check the health of both mothers and babies, Floyd and Beste say.

“A lot of women who we noted were having prematurity maybe had high blood pressure or had diabetes or had other medical conditions that it would really be beneficial if after they delivered this baby somebody said, ‘Hey, let’s treat these conditions so that your next pregnancy can be really healthy,’ and that wasn’t happening,” Beste says.

First Year Cape Fear also connects with moms before their six-week postpartum checkup to catch early stages of postpartum depression or other concerns.

“We’re all just here trying to do this work together to make a better community for our moms and better birth outcomes for our babies,” Floyd says. “We are definitely hoping that the work we’re putting in will lower the disparities.”

For more information visit www.firstyearcapefear.com.

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.

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Categories: Health