Baker College students to mentor expectant mothers

Nursing program, Public Health Muskegon County address infant mortality rate.
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From left are Shelia Wilson, supervisor, Public Health Muskegon County; Kaitlyn McClain and Hannah Zuidema, Baker College nursing mentors; and Melissa Miller, director of nursing, Baker College. Courtesy Baker College

Baker College of Muskegon’s nursing program is partnering with Public Health Muskegon County (PHMC) to help reduce the infant and maternal death rate in the county.

The partners have established the Mom Mentoring Program, which is designed to help reduce the infant mortality rate in the county and help nursing students at Baker College fulfill their community credit hours required for graduation.

“The partnership we have with Baker College’s School of Nursing and our Mom Mentoring Program is a fantastic way to fulfill students’ requirements while serving as a valued community member,” said Shelia Wilson, maternal and child health supervisor with PHMC. “Helping women throughout their pregnancy journey, and up to the baby’s first birthday, can be very rewarding.”

From 2015 to 2019, the Muskegon County infant mortality rate averaged 7.2%, surpassing the state’s average of 6.6%, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

To lower the rate in Muskegon County, the new program is beginning to enroll mentors and mentees.

Mentees are women who are four or more months pregnant and living in Muskegon County and mentors are volunteers, which include Baker College students and Muskegon residents.

“In the nursing program at Baker College, service-learning opportunities, like the Mom Mentoring Program, are part of our commitment to the community and to our profession of caring, and are a privilege to be a part of,” said Melissa Miller, director of nursing/clinical coordinator and assistant professor at Baker College of Muskegon. “The women in this program, both the mentors and mentees, are our neighbors and peers, and their health and well-being are integral to our own and to that of our community.”

Mentors and mentees will be paired based on their common interests. Once they are matched, mentors and their pregnant mentees will go through a required training session, participate in bi-weekly educational meetings and commit to at least one hour per week of active mentoring time over 18 months.

Wilson said the 30-minute educational meetings cover numerous pregnancy topics including prenatal care, fetal development month-by-month, emotional fitness, postpartum care, postpartum changes and infant development.

Mentors will be able to aid their mentees throughout their pregnancies and for the first year of the baby’s life.

“Mentors are meant to provide social and emotional support for the pregnant women, encouraging them to keep all their medical appointments with their prenatal provider,” Wilson said. “Keeping those prenatal appointments was something that we found (was lacking) when we were doing our research. Some of the infant deaths are related to premature birth (and) some women were missing quite a few of their prenatal appointments.

“Mentors are encouraged to (help) the mentees … keep their prenatal appointments and be involved as much as the pregnant women will allow them to be. Then they report back to their mentor on how the appointment went just to make sure that medical care is being followed, so that if there is some kind of pre-existing conditions they’re being dealt with and it is not going to cause a premature labor situation and possibly lose an infant from being born way too prematurely.”

The program also provides information on community resources and programs including 2-1-1, Bright by Text, Children’s Special Health Care Services, Muskegon Area ISD Resources, MDHHS Safe Sleep for Your Baby, Muskegon Parents’ Initiative, Trinity Health-Aunt Bertha Community Resource Directory and Women Infant Children-Muskegon County.

The Mom Mentoring Program also offers support during celebratory events such as baby showers and the baby’s first birthday. 

Some of the gifts Wilson said pregnant women receive are safe and healthy baby kits and learn and grow kits. The kits include sleep sacks, pacifiers, door grabbers, outlet covers, toys and books. 

“The birthday party is like an exit party because once the baby is a year old, the mentors and mentees would be done with the program,” she said. 

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