Physicians at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center are partnering with the New Mexico Office of African American Affairs to begin a new initiative designed to give pregnant women more control of their prenatal care.  

UNM physicians, state officials, local midwives and community members will gather at the UNM Hospitals North Valley Center for Family and Community Health in Albuquerque from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday, June 18, 2015.  The event will kick-off of the African American Infant Mortality Project, an initiative that will bring an evidenced-based group prenatal care model called CenteringPregnancy to New Mexico.

Instead of having a series of brief doctor visits throughout their pregnancies, Centering participants will meet during their regularly scheduled pre-natal care visits and will complete their own routine tests, including weight, temperature, urine samples and measuring their baby's growth.

Each participate then meets briefly with a physician, before the entire group meets to discuss pregnancy topics, including body changes, relationships, nutrition, breastfeeding, new baby care and smoking cessation. The program is open to all pregnant women.

CenteringPregnancy was developed by midwives and administered through the Centering Healthcare Institute, said Mary Beth Sutter, MD, who participated in the program before coming to UNM.

“It is a very satisfying experience for a physician,” she said. “Instead of asking the same quick questions over and over, there is a real chance for everyone to have learning and some interaction. All of the moms come in at around the same time in their pregnancy. From the beginning, they are learning from each other.”

New Mexico has many high-risk pregnancies and there are many social factors that can affect outcomes, Sutter said.

Statistics show that in New Mexico, African American infants are more than twice as likely to suffer from infant mortality than white, non-Hispanic infants. African Americans have the highest rate of infant mortality in the state, followed by Hispanics, Native Americans and whites. Senate Bill 69, sponsored by state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino during the 2014 legislative session, and a budgetary allocation by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez created funds for the state Office of African American Affairs to pilot a project to address these disparate outcomes.

The office used the appropriation to bring CenteringPregnancy to New Mexico and worked with UNM to create a collaboration that will pilot the model at UNMH's North Valley Center for Family and Community Health. Studies have shown that CenteringPregnancy can reduce the odds of preterm birth by as much as 47 percent, with particularly high rates of success among African American and Hispanic women.

"We are grateful to be able to lead an initiative in our state to improve birth outcomes," said Yvette Kaufman-Bell, director of the New Mexico Office of African American Affairs. “Governor Susana Martinez’s $50,000 budgetary allocation to assist with fulfilling the mandate of Senate Bill 69, which commissioned our agency to take a deeper look at the indicators of African American infant mortality in New Mexico, and our partnership with UNM, indicate the commitment we all have to changing infant mortality outcomes in our state for the better."

According to Sunshine Muse, chair of the New Mexico Office of African American Affairs Health Advisory Committee, which initiated the project, “focusing on infant mortality was a natural decision. Our team determines its initiatives based on data that outlines the health disparities we are facing in the state. These local health disparities tend to mirror national trends. The disparity in birth outcomes was worthy of our attention. When we learned about CenteringPregnancy we knew that it was the appropriate intervention and the legislation and appropriation supported that knowing."   

 The North Valley Center for Family and Community Health, UNM Hospitals’ newest family practice clinic, is located at 3401 Fourth Street NW in Albuquerque.

For more information on the African American Infant Mortality Project and CenteringPregnancy, visit  www.oaaa.state.nm.us and click on the “Programs” tab.