The needs of mothers-to-be – and their families – begin long before a new baby is welcomed to the world.
Lisa MacDonald and Colleen Boyd, registered nurses with the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital’s Open Arms Clinic, help guide the process of preparing for delivery and the life changes that come with parenthood.
“We develop relationships,” Boyd said, as her colleague nodded in agreement.
That foundation for those ‘relationships’ is cemented during an initial one-hour, one-on-one visit, which takes place as early as possible in the pregnancy.
“It is their introduction to the hospital, so to speak,” MacDonald said of the visit to the clinic, which is part of the Children’s and Women’s Health Unit.
Nurses and mothers-to-be exchange information in preparation for the birth, including areas such as pre-natal information.
Boyd said they assess client needs in a variety of areas, including culturally, socially and financially, and help mothers-to-be to connect with support services in the community.
“Each mother has different challenges,” she added, noting areas such as relationship and mental health issues.
Described as a ‘team approach,’ Open Arms Clinic staff work with mid-wife services, mental health services, public health nurses, social services, family physicians, family and children’s support programs.
“Nobody works in a silo,” MacDonald said, in stressing the significance of that collaboration.
Although there may be others along the way – the arms of the Open Arms Clinic are always open – usually, after that aforementioned first visit, the mother comes in next around the 36th week of pregnancy.
“It is a great experience,” MacDonald said of the process that takes place with mothers and their families.
The topics for that get-together include infant feeding, while they noted, labour and delivery, at that time, more often than not top the list.
“We are there to answer whatever questions they may have,” Boyd said.
The nursing duo noted the number of questions, usually, is higher for first-time parents.
“We meet with people who have never changed a diaper,” MacDonald said, noting it is a “time of huge changes” and the importance of them “individualizing” the approach for each clinic visitor.
With support services in place, the nurses agreed they lead to much more positive outcomes and healthier babies and mothers.
“We help reinforce important messages,” MacDonald said.
Support from the clinic, as mentioned, does not end with child birth. The nurses continue to see mothers and babies, providing information and guidance in areas such as growth and breastfeeding.
Describing breastfeeding as a “hot topic” – both culturally and socially – Boyd said there are a lot of myths, which mothers can learn about during clinic visits.
The nurses, who are international board certified lactation consultants, noted some mothers start out totally against breastfeeding but, once they receive the proper information, they change their perspective.
Noting the focus is “healthy lifestyles and behaviours,” they mentioned clinic visits also provide an opportunity for women “to explore their whole health,” including areas such as self-breast exams and mental health.
“For some women, it has been a while since they have even seen a doctor,” MacDonald noted.
Healthy diet and obesity, including gestational weight gain, are amongst the areas of focus.
Each year, St. Martha’s Children’s and Women’s Health Unit assists with 350 to 400 births, with 85 to 90 per cent of mothers participating in the Open Arms Clinic process.
Often described as unique and innovative for Nova Scotia, with its focus on coming on board early in the pregnancy process, MacDonald and Boyd outlined the clinic’s work – titled ‘Ahead of the Birth: Planning Post-Partum Discharge Prenatally’ – in mid-October, at the Canadian Association of Perinatal and Women’s Health Nurses National Conference in Halifax.
“We were really proud to highlight what we do here,” MacDonald said, while noting it also provided an opportunity to learn about other programs across the country.
Their participation in the conference was made possible, financially, through support from the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation.
Staff education is one of the myriad focuses for the foundation.
“We are thankful for their support,” Boyd said.