smart beginnings

Babies don’t come with instruction manuals, but through a local Smart Beginnings Eastern Shore (SBES) initiative, new parents can count on extra support to help their baby thrive.

The first years of a baby’s life are the most vital for the formation of the brain’s core architecture – the foundation upon which sits a child’s health, behavior and ability to learn.  On the Eastern Shore, due to high levels of poverty and other associated risk factors, many parents have a harder time exposing young children to the experiences needed for the best possible cognitive, physical and emotional development.

To help mitigate these risk factors, Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital has partnered with Smart Beginnings Eastern Shore to provide a “Go and Grow Starter Pack” to the estimated 500 new parents leaving the hospital this year with a newborn.

The first “Go and Grow Starter Pack,” a diaper bag filled with carefully curated materials to help new parents in the earliest months of their child’s life, was distributed to parents this summer.

“We are thrilled to partner with the hospital because that is the place to catch families early, right at the beginning,” said Linda Schulz, PhD, Chair of Smart Beginnings Eastern Shore. “We’re in a special situation on the Eastern Shore, as a lot of rural communities are, in that there is only one hospital here that serves most of the population. Here, we are able to capture every single new parent that gives birth on the Eastern Shore.”

The “Go and Grow Starter Packs” are presented before discharge to new parents by nurses from the Mother/Baby Unit, who received special training to provide an overview of the materials, according to Ann Pruitt, RN, Director of the Mother/Baby Unit at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital.

“Our goal is to encourage parents to interact with their babies in ways that will promote early cognitive, social emotional and physical skills that will start them on the path to be ready for school by age five,” said Schulz.

The “Go and Grow Starter Pack” includes the following items, valued at $46 per pack:

  • a brand new diaper bag filled with important information about how to promote a child’s health and development, including a directory of early childhood services on the Eastern Shore.
  • a list of recommended mobile and tablet apps to learn more about early childhood development.
  • two developmentally appropriate children’s books and information on the importance of reading to children from birth.
  • supplies to help new parents promote their children’s physical health, including a Sleep Sack Swaddle Sleeper to encourage safe sleeping, and an infant dental kit to promote early dental health.
  • an invitation to participate in a closed Facebook group to stay connected to fellow new parents over the course of their baby’s first year because, as Shultz said, “I’ve always believed new parents need other new parents to connect with.”

Materials are available in English, Spanish and Haitian-Creole.

“Patients love the diaper bags and are very grateful for all the items in it,” Pruitt said. “Our nurses are equally delighted to help educate the moms about the bag, its contents and the Smart Beginnings organization, not to mention providing safety guidance for the newborns.  We want to help new parents provide the very best start in life for their baby because then everybody wins:  the parents, the baby and our community.”

Funding for the project – $23,000 – was provided by the Eastern Shore Community Foundation, regional and local Rotary Clubs and individual donations.

The SBES Parent Engagement Committee and Coordinator Roberta Newman implemented the project with guidance from early childhood experts from Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, Eastern District Health Department, Parent-Infant Program on the Shore, Head Start, Migrant Head Start, Eastern Shore Rural Health, PNC Bank, the Eastern Shore Public Library System, Child Care Aware, Eastern Shore Community College, and the Northampton and Accomack County Departments of Social Services.

“This program is truly a demonstration of community groups working together in a really productive way with the hospital to promote the health and wellbeing of the entire population here on the Eastern Shore,” Schulz said.

Published: September 6, 2017