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Combating infant mortality in St. Louis — a discussion with Nurses for Newborns

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Melinda Ohlemiller, of Nurses for Newborns. Nurses for Newborns is a local organization that seeks to improve the outcome of infants in at-risk families.

Nurses for Newborns is a local organization that seeks to improve the outcome of infants in at-risk families. Since the organization was founded over 20 years ago, the nurses have helped more than 100,000 families raise healthy babies. At any given moment, the nurses are helping more than 1,000 babies younger than age 2 and their families.

“So many families over the years have counted on us and maybe didn’t know they needed assistance until they were in the moment,” said CEO Melinda Ohlemiller on St. Louis on the Air. “I shudder to think what would happen [if there were no Nurses for Newborns]. There would have been more babies who would have been abused, more babies who would have experienced neglect, who weren’t immunized … so on and so forth. We make a big impact.”

“Not every child living in poverty is at risk for having a bad outcome but it really starts stacking against you when you add poverty, stressors to the family, homelessness, food insecurity … you start piling those on top of each other and you have thousands and thousands of babies in our region who need additional support.”

Hospitals, health clinics, children’s division and families refer themselves to Nurses for Newborns for help.

“Nurses go in and provide a health assessment for the baby and mom at every visit,” Ohlemiller said. “They perform screenings, for example, for maternal depression. About one-third of our moms need additional support around depression, anxiety and extreme stress. We also do developmental screenings of the babies to make sure they are on track. We provide development and teaching on a variety of topics.”

"About one-third of our moms need additional support around depression, anxiety and extreme stress."

Those topics address: CPR, choking incidents, when a baby sick/well, when to use the ER, when to engage with physicians immediately vs. later. Nurses also connect families with resources they may not know about to assist in raising the child.

Nurses for Newborns serves families in eastern Missouri and also in Nashville, Tennessee. On staff, there are nurses who speak Bosnian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Nurses go through special training and are hired only if they have three to five years of nursing experience in an intensive care nursery. There’s also a mentoring process, classroom time and field work before a nurse works with families alone.

Ohlemiller said that the best stories they hear from those they’ve served are ones where young mothers go on to become nurses themselves because of the care they received from Nurses for Newborns.

“We see families who survive horrendous trauma, violence, interpersonal violence, violence in their communities, things that would fell most of us and yet they prevail … get their families to a safer area, bring a baby home from a neo-natal intensive care unit and thrive,” Ohlemiller said. “Maybe they’ve never been successful at anything before, but they’re able to do this. It is truly remarkable and a privilege to be part of that.”

Related Event

What: A Night for Newborns Dinner Auction
When: Sunday, April 17 at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Hilton St. Louis Frontenac, 1335 S. Lindbergh Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63131
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.