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Swaddled in comfort

March 22, 2009
Story by Michael Gassett

NEW ULM Newborn babies coming home need lots of care and attention. For new parents, this can be both exciting and stressful. For years, the tradition of providing baby blankets can be a comfort to both mom and baby.

Thanks to the dedication of the Brown County Public Health Department and its volunteers this tradition has been carried out locally for the past 12 years through the Universal Contact Home Visit. This free in-home service is provided to any newborn and family living in Brown County regardless of where the baby was born.

Each mom has the benefit of a visit from a registered Public Health Nurse, certified in Public Health Nursing. The intent is to inform, educate and check the physical and emotional recovery of both mom and baby.

Article Photos

Volunteer Kitty Schultz of Sleepy Eye makes blankets at her home for newborn babies in Brown County.

The visit includes an infant care manual, a free book to read to the child and a calendar, which is used as a diary for the child's first year. The nurse also brings a blanket made by community volunteers especially for each newborn child in Brown County.

"If it's their first baby they are surprised," Public Health Nurse Terri Helland said. "We make visits to all families with each child. Some of them it's kind of a good way for me to get in the door because they know they are going to get that blanket. It's a good chance for me to find out how things are going. Get a weight check on the baby and see how mom is doing.

"But they definitely look forward to the blankets. And some of the older children, when they see the blanket, they will run and get their blanket and show me that they have one too."

Fact Box

Universal Contact Home Visit

Who is it for: It's a free service for all parents of infants who live anywhere in Brown County, regardless of where their child was born. It is for families that recently had a baby, adopted a baby or that have moved into the area and have an infant.

What is it: It is a home or office visit with a Public Health Nurse, who is a registered nurse and certified in Public Health Nursing.

When is it: The home visit can be made anytime that is convenient for the families but is offered within the first week or two after bringing the baby home from the hospital.

Where is it: The visit usually takes place in the family's home but may be at a family member's home or at the Brown County Public Health Office at 1117 Center St.

Why: To answer questions parents may have about caring for their baby, including feeding, safety, well-child exams, early parenting and normal infant behavior and expected growth and development.

*To check on the physical and emotional recovery of mom and the physical well-being of baby with a physical exam including weight check.

*To inform parents of the resources available in Brown County to provide information/support with parenting an infant such as Early Childhood Family Education classes, Early Childhood Early Intervention Programs, Woman Infant and Children [WIC], Mothers of Preeschoolers, Kindermusic, Library Services including story time.

Information on financial assistance programs are also provided.

*To inform parents on the services through Brown County Public Health, which are available to all Brown County Residents.

*To support the healthy development of all children in Brown County and to support parents in their most important job and that is being a successful parent.

Getting into the door is important to enroll the baby into the Follow Along Program. This program assists parents in monitoring their child's development from four months to three years through a series of questionnaires with feedback from Brown County Public Health, including calenders of activities to do with their child to promote their child's development. They also receive free books to read to their child. It's another free program for all parents.

The blanket program has been going strong in Brown County for several years and started with Community and Seniors Together [CAST] making blankets. They brought blankets to public health to see if there were families that could use them.

The program expanded in 1997 thanks to the Family First Collaborative Grant, which not only includes the blanket but the Universal Contact Home Visit.

"It was money that was available to counties if they could show that they were going to collaborate with each other and provide services," Helland said. "It's the school districts, it's public health it's the hospitals and clinics it's the volunteers. We try and collaborate and get a common message across to families."

That message is to put the babies on their stomachs for what is called tummy time.

"The blanket is a reminder about getting the baby on its tummy for tummy time," Helland said. "They were seeing that babies were having developmental delays because they were on their backs so much, to prevent SIDS. We needed a message, a way to remind people to do that. I think having the visual reminder, it seems when I go back to see families now they say, 'oh yeah, tummy time blanket.'" They know what it is now and what it's for."

It takes a strong contingent of volunteers to supply every Brown County newborn with a blanket. There are a few volunteers in each part of the county and Helland tries to pair up a blanket volunteer with a baby from that community. That isn't always possible, with the amount of babies born in New Ulm compared to other parts of the county.

It's not just single volunteers making the blankets either. Girls scouts, 4H groups, Early Childhood Family Education [ECFE], and children in school have made quilts too.

Kitty Schultz, who was a teacher's aide for 25 years at Sleepy Eye Elementary School, has been making blankets for newborns for years. She started in the 1990s then took a long break before resuming the volunteer work last fall. Helland sent her a letter asking if she would consider doing it again and she jumped at the chance.

"I was delighted when I got the letter asking for volunteers," she said. "I immediately ran to the phone and called the number back. I was just looking for something to do and it was something that I knew something about and I really enjoy it."

Public Health provides the fabric and batting and they have someone that goes to fabric shows to purchase the fabric in bulk for them.

"She always keeps us in mind," Helland said. "She will try and get us the best price that she can for something that looks somewhat babyish."

Nurses in the Public Health Department volunteer their time to cut the fabric and batting and place them in a bag with a card that the quilter fills out with their address.

"We try and mix them up so they have something different to sew," Helland said. "Sometimes it can be a job to keep the kits available, up to date and ready to go for the volunteers. We don't want to say, 'we don't have any.' We want to keep them busy."

Schultz gets two new kits [a kit consists of material for two blankets] every couple of months from Helland and she has made16 blankets since the fall.

She has yet to meet anyone that has received a blanket from her but she has received a few thank you cards from grateful parents.

"They tell me about the baby, the baby's name and about other children in the family," Schultz said. "It's fun. Some don't write much, some write a lot and some don't write at all."

The kits are usually set up for boys and girls with blues, pinks, greens and yellows. Boy blankets may have trucks and dinosaurs and girls could have little baby designs. Some blankets are unisex with Scooby Doo and Winnie The Pooh or have neutral tones.

"There is always fabric for a boy and a girl in each kit," Helland said. "But some are just kind of generic that could go either way. It's nice to have a balance between boys and girls because we never know what we are going to get. We have had a lot of boys this year."

Helland said that they have a small closet at Public Health Services stockpiled with blankets.

"We have some on hand and we figure we should have some supply there," she said. "There has only been one time when it got really low, where we worried if we would run out of them.



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