WVU School of Nursing teams with ETSU for mother and child health

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Most expectant mothers take great care to nurture their bodies and avoid behaviors that could put their babies at risk. Prenatal smoking is a major public health issue throughout the Appalachian region, and more pregnant women smoke in West Virginia than in any other state. In West Virginia, 32 percent of pregnant women use cigarettes, and that number merely represents a statewide average.

Though lower in many counties, the rate exceeds the average in particularly economically distressed areas, where prenatal care is practically nonexistent. Couple tobacco use with drug abuse, and cases of preventable infant mortality and low birth weights rise.

Thanks in part to a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the West Virginia University School of Nursing has partnered with the East Tennessee State University Department of Family Medicine and local health officials to build prenatal education networks in eight Appalachian counties: four in Tennessee and four in West Virginia, including Calhoun, Clay, Roane and Wirt counties.

ARC uses an index-based classification system to compare each county in the nation with economic national averages. Distressed counties are those that rank in the worst 10 percent of the nation’s counties.

“Research demonstrates a relationship between the two modifiable risk factors of prenatal smoking and lack of breastfeeding among women in West Virginia, calling for a comprehensive approach to promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors,” Ilana Chertok, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor in the WVU School of Nursing, said. “Infants born to women in areas of health disparities in Appalachia, where there is a high prevalence of prenatal smoking exposure, face risks of poor health outcomes.”

Dr. Chertok is leading the project in West Virginia. She had previously served as lead investigator in local tobacco cessation studies and is a certified lactation consultant.

Though more likely to use tobacco and drugs while pregnant, fewer new mothers in West Virginia and Tennessee breastfeed their newborns than women nationwide. The benefits of breastfeeding have been well documented, as the practice is known to improve children’s health and reduce the chances that the mother will become diabetic.

Approximately 80 health providers and social service workers will be trained to teach pregnant mothers about substance abuse prevention, smoking cessation and breastfeeding methods. Technical assistance will be offered through follow-up training, a website and reference materials.

“Since the people we train are out in the targeted communities already, they have potential access to nearly 2,000 pregnant women a year,” Chertok said. “Their role is to educate, guide and support these women in making better health choices, not to judge them.”

The project has received more than $136,000 from various sources, including $68,000 from ARC.

Contributions from state and local agencies, including more than $16,000 from WVU and more than $13,000 from ETSU, combined to effectively match the ARC grant.

To learn about the WVU School of Nursing, visit www.hsc.wvu.edu/son.
For more information: Leigh Limerick, Communications Specialist, 304-293-7087
lal: 11-12-12