July 27, 2016

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received nearly $900,000 in federal funding to identify and address the needs of mothers with medically fragile infants.

The funding will support Care4Moms, a three-year study of this vastly understudied group. Researchers will collect data on the postpartum period for mothers with hospitalized infants and make recommendations for targeted support programs. Investigators hope that findings from the study will improve health outcomes for the mothers, their medically fragile infants and future pregnancies.

Dr. Alison Stuebe

Dr. Alison Stuebe

Currently, limited research exists on the postpartum period health-care needs of mothers with fragile or hospitalized babies. Also, little has been done to collect the perspectives of OB-GYN and neonatal care providers about their roles in the addressing the additional needs faced by these mothers.

Alison Stuebe, MD, Distinguished Scholar of Infant and Young Child Feeding in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UNC’s School of Medicine, is the project’s lead investigator. Stuebe says the additional challenges that mothers with hospitalized infants face in the postpartum period point to a need for targeted postpartum health care.

“Mothers of medically fragile infants must recover from birth while at the bedside of a critically ill newborn,” Stuebe explains. “These challenges are compounded by the fact that data suggest these women are more likely to have birthed by C-section and experienced complications, and they may have underlying chronic health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Moreover, many mothers of medically fragile infants live hours away from where their infants are hospitalized.”

During the study, Care4Moms will conduct a retrospective analysis of about 7,000 mothers of infants born at N.C. Women’s Hospital over a two-year period. The researchers will compare health-care utilization of mothers with medically fragile infants to that of mothers with infants in the well-baby nursery.

To complement the analysis, the research team will interview new mothers with medically fragile infants to understand their self-described health needs and postpartum recovery experiences, as well as their experiences in accessing care. The team also will conduct interviews with providers in the UNC Health Care system to learn their perspectives on the services currently offered for mothers and the services they feel should be available.

The Care4Moms study will add to UNC’s growing body of research on the health-care needs of postpartum mothers during what is known as the fourth trimester. Dr. Stuebe also serves as a lead investigator for the 4th Trimester Project, which seeks to bring together mothers, health-care providers and other stakeholders to define unmet health-care needs in the first three months after a mother gives birth.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu



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