Young and pregnant, but not alone

At 17, Camia Carruthers is expecting her first child next week. But she’s not going it alone. She has the support of her parents, her boyfriend and Jeanne Kumlin, a nurse who makes weekly house calls.

At 17, Camia Carruthers is expecting her first child next week. But she’s not going it alone. She has the support of her parents, her boyfriend and Jeanne Kumlin, a nurse who makes weekly house calls.

For years, the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency has been sending nurses like Kumlin to check on pregnant teenagers throughout Hennepin County, Minn., and offer nutritional advice, parenting tips and even free cribs and clothing.

Now, a just-released study shows that those visits have paid off. The study, conducted by Wilder Research, found that teenagers in the visiting-nurse program were more likely to carry their babies to term, and give birth to healthy babies, than other pregnant teens in the Twin Cities.

“We would expect to see good things,” said Mary Ann Blade, CEO of the agency. But this study, funded by the City of Minneapolis, confirmed that the service “really affects outcomes,” she said.

“They’re reaching the population that really could use the help,” said Richard Chase, a social scientist at Wilder who conducted the study. Many of those teenagers, he said, live in unstable homes or have never learned to bond with their babies properly. “They’re doing a good job of reaching that diverse population, and they’re definitely a vulnerable group.”

From 2008 to 2009, the visiting nurses paid house calls to 526 pregnant teenagers or teenage moms, most referred by social-service agencies, schools or clinics.

The study found that 95 per cent of those in the program had babies with a healthy birth weight, compared to 90 per cent of other teenagers. Similarly, 95 per cent carried their babies to full term, compared to 89 per cent of those not involved in the program.

The results also suggest that the teens might be more likely to stay in school, increasing their chances to become self-sufficient as adults.

It’s well known, Blade said, that babies born to teenage mothers often face a gantlet of problems, from poverty to poor nutrition that can hinder their chances of developing normally. About 10 years ago, the MVNA decided to launch a special program to prevent those problems. It now spends about $3 million a year — mostly city and county funds, plus private donations — to cover the visits.

In January, Kumlin started visiting Carruthers at her home in Minneapolis. The high-school sophomore said she’s learned many tips from those visits. For example, she said, “that the baby not sleep on his stomach.” And “not putting the bottle in the microwave.”

Kumlin said Carruthers’ doctor was worried that the teenager wasn’t eating enough early in her pregnancy. So Kumlin made a point to discuss healthful eating, encouraging her to eat vegetables and not skip meals.