SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A statewide and local partnership is helping address the high number of premature babies born across Georgia.
The 2020 March of Dimes Report Card found that the state’s preterm birth rate is 11.7%, and also revealed that Chatham County’s preterm birth rate of 12.6% is Georgia’s highest.
With the help of a $40,000 grant from longtime March of Dimes partner, the Amerigroup Foundation, Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care is working to tackle the problem.
The Savannah-based doctor’s office, which provides care for underserved communities, has been implementing the IMPLICIT Interconception Care model.
IMPLICIT stands for “Interventions to Minimize Preterm and Low-birth-weight Infants using Continuous Improvement Techniques.”
The model takes into account the health of both the mother and the child.
Chief medical officer Dr. Fariborz Zaer says Curtis V. Cooper has partnered with March of Dimes and Amerigroup for the past three years.
“For a long time, the pediatricians only looked at the health of the babies — we were more concerned about the babies,” Zaer told WSAV NOW.
“Through this program, we’ve come to realize more and more that the health of the mother — not just mental health, but the physical health of the mother — is so important because if the mother is not healthy, she cannot look after a baby, and may not be in the best position for the next pregnancy if it comes too soon,” Zaer said.
It also teaches moms the importance of waiting 18 months in between giving birth and becoming pregnant again to give the body ample time to recover.
He adds that as of 2020, the IMPLICIT Interconception Care model has helped the premature birth rate of Curtis V. Cooper’s patients drop to 9.2% — a lower rate than that of the county and state.
The primary care office provides mothers with screenings and, if needed, interventions for issues like postpartum depression.
“We have services on-site where we can provide immediate same-day interventions,” Zaer said.
“I’ve had many mothers who have screened positive for depression, and I’ve asked them, ‘would you like to see someone today?’ and they immediately say, ‘yes, I would love to do that,’ because they were really in need of that service,” he said.
The office also provides OB-GYN, contraceptive and nutrition services for mothers.
“We try to make sure that they continue to take multivitamins so they remain healthy, especially if they’re breastfeeding,” Zaer said.
“In addition, smoking is one of the risk factors for low-birth-weight babies and premature babies, so if they screen positive, we try to provide interventions for that, provided that they’re ready to quit or at least to reduce it,” he said.
The March of Dimes reports that it’s common for mothers to miss their six-week postpartum visit, leading them to miss out on critical health information and services.
Zaer says Curtis V. Cooper is helping moms stay on top of these and other crucial appointments.
“There are so many social factors that affect the mother’s life, especially during the pandemic; she’s at home with a new baby and all the challenges that come with a new baby,” Zaer said.
“Maybe she’s got another child or another two or three children in the house with nobody to help her with that, so it’s very challenging for her to take care of the family and then come in regularly for the visits,” he said.
The medical expert adds that while mothers may often miss doctor’s visits for themselves, they seldom miss appointments booked for their little ones.
“They want to have the best for their baby,” Zaer explained.
Through the IMPLICIT Interconception Care model, Curtis V. Cooper’s staff and physicians can take those opportunities to educate mothers about prioritizing their own health.
“During that time, we can not only educate them about taking care of themselves, from [when] the baby is born until the six-week mark when they go in for their postpartum visit, but we can make sure that they do make that appointment,” Zaer said.
“Whether it’s with our OB-GYN or with their own OB-GYN, it’s really important that we encourage them and remind them to do that,” he added.