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Federal Program Helps New Moms Get on Track

View of baby boy's foot through bars of cot

The Nurse-Family Partnership, which helps poor, first-time mothers learn to be parents, is part of a federal effort to combat the persistently high rates of infant mortality in the United States. And it's making a difference, as the NYTimes reports.

“I was lost, going from house to house,” Onie Hayslett, 22, told the Times. From Memphis, Tennessee, she was homeless and pregnant when she first met nurse Beth Pletz two years ago. Her only shoes were slippers. “She brought me food. That’s not her job description, but she did it anyway. [Pletz] really cares about what’s going on. I don’t have many people in my life like that.”

Funded by the Affordable Care Act, home-visit programs with medical professionals like Pletz have gained traction in hundreds of cities and towns with the hope that such small-scale efforts—basically improving children's health by educating mothers—can show progress on a national scale. The programs teach everything from the safest way for a newborn to sleep, to the dangers of shaking a baby. Most of Pletz's clients are poor, young, black and single.

According to the CDC, stats from 2010 has the U.S. ranking 26th on a list of developed countries' infant mortality rates (Canada's stats didn't make the cut in time, so the ranking is likely lower). At an infant mortality rate of 6.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, America is far behind Finland and Japan, which both top the list with a rate of 2.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

But in Tennessee, where home visiting programs have bipartisan support, infant mortality is already down by 14 percent since 2010, and sleep deaths dropped by 10 percent from 2012 to 2013, the Times reports. State officials reportedly credit a multitude of policies, including the home visits, with the improvements.

Home visits like those by Nurse Pletz have reached more than 115,000 mothers and children, according to the Times. States apply for grants, and they must collect data on how the families fare on measures of health, education and economic self-sufficiency. Early results are expected in 2015.

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