UNC-Chapel Hill’s Care4Moms project to research, make recommendations on needs of mothers with medically fragile infants

The study’s results will help improve health outcomes for mothers, their babies and future pregnancies.

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Courtney Mitchell
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July 25, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHAPEL HILL, NC – An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine has received nearly $900,000 in federal funding to identify and address the needs of mothers with medically fragile infants, a vastly understudied group.

Care4Moms is a three-year study led by the UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health. Researchers will collect data on the postpartum period for mothers with hospitalized infants and make recommendations for targeted support programs. Researchers hope that outcomes from the study will improve health outcomes for the mothers, their medically fragile infants and future pregnancies.

Limited research exists on the health care needs of mothers with fragile or hospitalized babies during the postpartum period. And little has been done to collect the perspectives of OB-GYN and neonatal care providers about their own roles in addressing the additional needs faced by these mothers.

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Dr. Alison Stuebe
Alison Stuebe, M.D., M.Sc., associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the UNC School of Medicine and Distinguished Scholar of Infant and Young Child Feeding in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, is the project’s lead investigator. She said the additional challenges mothers with hospitalized infants face in the postpartum period point to a need for targeted postpartum health care.

“Mothers of medically fragile infants must recover from birth while at the bedside of a critically ill newborn,” Stuebe said. “These challenges are compounded by the fact that data suggest these women are more likely to have birthed by C-section and experienced complications and may have underlying chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Moreover, many mothers of medically fragile infants live hours away from where their infants are hospitalized.”

Care4Moms will conduct a retrospective analysis of about 7,000 mothers of infants born at N.C. Women’s Hospital over a two-year period. The study will compare health care utilization of mothers with medically fragile infants to that of mothers of infants in the well-baby nursery.

To complement the analysis, researchers will interview new mothers with medically fragile infants to understand their self-described health needs and postpartum recovery experiences, as well as their experiences in accessing care. The team will also conduct interviews with providers in the UNC Health Care system to learn their perspectives on the services currently offered for mothers as well as the services they feel should be available.

The Care4Moms study adds to UNC-Chapel Hill’s growing body of research on the health care needs of postpartum mothers during what is known as the fourth trimester. Dr. Stuebe is also a lead investigator on the 4th Trimester Project, which seeks to bring together mothers, health care providers and other stakeholders to define unmet health care needs in the first three months after a mother gives birth.

This study was supported by grant R40MC29455 Maternal and Child Health Research Program, Maternal and Child Health Bureau (Title V, Social Security Act), Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services.

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The Care4Moms research team includes an all woman team of Alison Stuebe, Renee Ferrari, Michelle Jonsson-Funk, Sarah Verbiest, Erin McClain, Katherine Bryant, Patricia Bojakowski and Marisa Domino.

The Center for Maternal and Infant Health is a joint program of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Department of Pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine. The Center is dedicated to improving preconception health and reproductive life planning attitudes, behaviors, resources and services for men, women and families. The Center’s clinical work focuses on helping patients with high-risk pregnancies and families with medically fragile infants to navigate a complex health care system, working with them to make sure they are receiving the best care available.

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