Lightfoot launches ‘Family Connects Chicago’ program to combat infant mortality

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Infant mortality is one of five driving forces behind the nine-year life expectancy gap between black and white Chicagoans.

On Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched an innovative program tailor-made to narrow that stunning gap by giving new mothers and their babies the help they need when it matters most: in the crucial first three weeks after giving birth.

The pilot program that Lightfoot is calling, “Family Connects Chicago” will begin at four so-called “birthing hospitals”: Norwegian American, Mount Sinai, Saint Bernard and Rush University Medical Center.

An estimated 4,000 families with newborns will get a bedside visit while mom and baby are still at the hospital and another visit at home about three weeks later.

The soup-to-nuts service will be extended to foster and adoptive parents as well as natural birth parents.

For infant care, the help will range from weight checks and safe sleep information to “feeding and fussiness,” bathing, diapering and swaddling.

The new mom’s health will also be checked, including screening for post-partum depression. She’ll also get breastfeeding support and family planning advice.

New parents will get help in sorting through child care options. If additional help is needed with any of the assorted needs that routinely emerge during the first few weeks, they will be connected to those resources.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will never forget the new mother’s panic she felt on the day she and her wife, Amy Eshleman, brought their infant daughter home for the very first time.

“We were also trying to figure out which end was up, being sleep-deprived and making sure that we were tending to our baby. And we had a lot of support and resources,” said Lightfoot, whose daughter, Vivian, is now a healthy and thriving 11-year-old.

“I think about those mothers out there who are bringing newborns home that may or may not have had a range of prenatal care — how vitally important this program will be for them.”

Lightfoot noted that “parenthood doesn’t come with an instruction manual,” even though it probably should.

“We’re not only giving critical support to our mothers and newborns now. We are addressing potential challenges down the road before they even start. We’re also instilling in them the importance of making sure they are connected to a health care professional throughout the life of that child,” the mayor said.

Family Connects Chicago is patterned after a program jointly developed by Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy and the Center for Child and Family Health in Durham, N.C., where the university is located.

It’s the kind of program the mayor wants to do more of to improve mental health, maternal health and early child care while combating homelessness, substance abuse and Chicago’s affordable housing shortage.

“Smart, supportive and holistic services that don’t just address a problem when it happens, but keeps the problem from happening at all,” the mayor said.

Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she trained as pediatrician. It was her job to run through the laundry list of things new parents should keep in mind before sending that family home from the hospital.

“Let me tell you. At that moment — when you’re trying to remember so many things, you’re trying to juggle. Nobody’s had a lot of sleep — it’s not the best moment to think about what the long-term needs are and to do that education,” Arwady said.

“So being able to offer this is a real service that will help families.”

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