In its continued efforts to combat maternal mortality, New Jersey lawmakers have adopted a statewide home visitation program for new mothers and infants.
New mothers face tremendous challenges that most struggle with quietly, without support or guidance. Whether they have nearby family or supportive friends, mothers with newborns often feel alone in their doubts and fears. Battling lost sleep in the last weeks of pregnancy, the physical and emotional hardship of labor, and the insecurity of not knowing what to do with the tremendous responsibility placed in their laps, new mothers often feel tremendously overwhelmed. They may face the challenges of caring for themselves, their babies, and often other children as well, all in the midst of physical changes and hormones ravaging their bodies after giving birth. Not only the typical effects of carrying a child through pregnancy and undergoing labor and delivery, but some women experience medical problems before, during, and particularly after childbirth, many of which go undiagnosed and untreated. That is, until something goes catastrophically wrong.
Many forgo or simply don’t have the ability to follow up with their doctors at their six-week postpartum checkups to examine health issues and concerns. With so much to handle and a lack of attention to the critical postpartum period among many medical professionals, new mothers suffer high maternal mortality rates. According to national statistics, this plague of maternal death impacts every state, and New Jersey ranks among the worst in its maternal health outcomes.
Law Providing Free Nurse Visits after Birth in New Jersey
Addressing high maternal mortality rates and the need for healthy beginnings for newborns, Governor Murphy recently signed Bill S690 into law. Likewise, citing statistics indicating that over half of all maternal deaths occur in the first six weeks after giving birth, First Lady Tammy Murphy applauded this significant piece of legislation as a key component of the state’s Nurture New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan, which aims to reduce the number of maternal deaths by half. New Jersey ranks in the bottom ten percent of the nation for maternal mortality rates, and women of color die in disproportionately more significant numbers. Moreover, given the considerable impact that a child’s first weeks after birth have on the rest of their life, the proponents of this new legislation celebrate the prospect of healthier babies and mothers supported by visiting nurses in those first critical weeks after childbirth.
At-Home Wellness Checks for New Mothers
The new law supplies new mothers with attention and information they may need within the first two weeks of birth to feed and nurture their babies. According to the law, a registered nurse visits a new mother’s home up to three times in a baby’s first three months of life and gives information, answers questions, and demonstrates how to nurse and care for their child. The nurse also assesses the health of the mother and baby and identifies specific needs of mothers, such as food security, environmental safety, mental health support, childcare, and financial stability, to ensure the new mother has the resources to fulfill those basic needs. The studies backing the legislation show the connection between maternal support programs and improved outcomes for mothers and infants.
What the New Program Seeks to do for Moms and Babies
The visiting nurse service is free to any mother of a newborn, adopted child, or stillborn baby. The invaluable reassurance and guidance of a healthcare professional can go a long way toward aiding women with breastfeeding challenges, understanding physical and emotional changes, and battling postpartum depression. Beyond that, a visiting nurse can identify signs that warrant immediate medical attention and potentially save the lives of mothers and babies with alarming symptoms that must be addressed to avoid serious complications. The long-term benefits to mothers, babies, and families include fewer incidences of abuse, neglect, and fatalities, as well as more promise for child development.
The Department of Children and Families oversees the program, which is voluntary and open to anyone who wants home wellness visits. And for those who receive the free healthcare services, the practical implications of such a program cannot be understated. A medical professional’s visit can prevent health emergencies and long-term injuries from simple or more serious medical problems. For example, a nurse can examine a baby and discover if the newborn has jaundice and needs to see a doctor right away. Otherwise, a new mother may not recognize the need for a doctor visit before the baby’s scheduled first office appointment. Similarly, a nurse can discuss the mother’s symptoms and prevent potential complications of common postpartum conditions, such as preeclampsia and excessive bleeding. With medical assistance and encouragement, new mothers who are not aware that they should see a doctor might survive potentially life-threatening conditions.
While New Jersey’s efforts to combat preventable injury and death to mothers are laudable, the program’s success also depends on the professional standards of the medical personnel checking on resident mothers and their families. Registered nurses visiting patients under this new program or practicing nursing anywhere must abide by professional, educational, and practice requirements governed by medical and nursing boards and oversight agencies.
Expectations when a Nurse Comes to Your Home after Giving Birth
The benefits of such a program like this derive from a medical professional’s competency in recognizing symptoms and thorough knowledge of maternal illnesses and conditions. However, when a registered nurse does not recognize or report symptoms that may cause concern, they may be liable for resulting damages, worsening conditions, and even death. Careful documenting of reported and observed symptoms and clear communication are the nurse’s duties to the patients they visit. For example, a nurse who does not write down or report to a supervising doctor that a mother has high blood pressure may be partially responsible in a legal action. They might have been negligent if they did not follow up with the mother after the initial visit. They may be liable for not advising the mother to seek medical attention right away.
In any context, a nurse or other healthcare provider cannot operate with practices that ultimately harm those they are supposed to help. In such situations, an injured patient may have a medical malpractice claim. Regardless of the good intentions of medical professionals, facilities, and programs, medical negligence can end tragically for a mother, her baby, and her family. If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to postpartum pregnancy malpractice, you should discuss the potential for seeking redress with help from an experienced medical malpractice attorney. No one should be forced to cope with the undue physical and emotional damage of injuries due to the acts or omissions of the medically-negligent.