September was National Preparedness Month, and this year’s theme, “Take Control in 1, 2, 3,” emphasized the importance of readiness for all, especially adults and families from communities disproportionately affected by various hazards. But what does this theme mean for birth workers, and how can they play a vital role in disaster preparedness during the perinatal period?
In this blog, we explore this critical topic with insights from two remarkable individuals, Dr. Tyra Gross and Jacqueline Lambert. They shed light on the intersection of perinatal care and disaster preparedness, highlighting the urgency of being well-prepared to support families in times of crisis, with a particular attention to climate crisis.
Dr. Tyra Gross: Perinatal Health and Infant Feeding in Emergencies
Dr. Gross, the Associate Professor and Department Head of Public Health Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana, recently spoke on a Preparing for Emergencies in the NICU webinar and shared a sobering statistic: the United States received a score of 0 in an evaluation of its Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCFE) preparedness. This alarming score reflects the country’s significant lack of readiness to address the unique needs of perinatal families during climate crises.
The consequences of poor IYCFE preparedness are profound and can cause negative long-lasting effects on perinatal families. Studies have established links between exposure to heat, wildfire smoke, flooding, hurricanes, and fossil fuel extraction with adverse maternal health outcomes. Dr. Gross’s insights underscore the urgent need for birth workers to be well-versed in disaster preparedness to support families during these challenging times.
In today’s world, the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident. The projected worsening of extreme heat worldwide due to the climate crisis further exacerbates these risks, and underscore the pressing need to prepare birthing families for disaster. Doulas, breastfeeding peer counselors, community health workers, and others within the perinatal workforce may be able to provide community-rooted guidance and help prepare families.
To highlight this critical issue, Dr. Gross shared resources that underscore the gravity of the situation:
- Help During Maui Wildfires: A nonprofit organization is making a significant difference in assisting pregnant and postpartum individuals during the Maui wildfires. Read more
- Extreme Heat’s Impact on Birth Control and Pregnancy Tests: Rising temperatures can affect the effectiveness of birth control and pregnancy tests, adding another layer of concern for perinatal families during heatwaves. Learn more
- Doulas and Hurricane Season in Louisiana: Climate change is intensifying hurricane seasons, and doulas are stepping up to ensure that parents can safely feed their babies during these challenging times. Discover more
She also introduced the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), which includes a set of questions that can guide families in disaster preparedness:
- Do you have an emergency meeting place for family members other than your home?
- Have you and your family practiced what to do in case of a disaster?
- Do you have a plan for how your family would keep in touch if separated?
- Do you have an evacuation plan for your home and community?
- Do you have an evacuation plan for your child or children in case of disaster?
- Do you keep copies of important documents in a safe place outside your home?
- Do you have emergency supplies in your home, such as water, food, and medicine?
- Do you have emergency supplies in your car, at work, or at home for quick access?
As birth workers continue to advocate for the well-being of perinatal families, Dr. Gross’s message serves as a poignant reminder that preparedness is not just a recommendation but a lifeline for those in need during emergencies.
Jacqueline Lambert: Doulas and Disaster Preparedness
In the southern regions of the United States, where the threat of natural disasters like tornadoes looms large, birth workers like Jacqueline Lambert are at the forefront of ensuring the safety and well-being of perinatal families.
Mississippi, in particular, has already witnessed 44 tornadoes in 2023, pointing out the urgent need for disaster preparedness within the perinatal workforce. Jacqueline Lambert, HealthConnect One’s Community-Based Doula Manager/Trainer and founder of Let’s Talk Baby Cafe in Merigold Mississippi, is no stranger to the unique challenges that new mothers face during climate-related crises and disasters. Jacqueline provided valuable insights into the unique challenges that new mothers face during climate-related crises and disasters. She highlighted the need for securing water for formula preparation, access to formula, proper storage, diapers, clothing, and maintaining milk supply for breastfeeding moms in these situations.
Doulas, Lambert explained, play a pivotal role in helping mothers navigate these challenges. They provide physical support, connect families with necessary resources, and continuously check in with families, even when not explicitly asked for assistance. Doulas are able to recognize the emotional and mental toll of disasters by offering a listening ear and helping to identify when additional support is required. Jacqueline also provided invaluable insights into her work in helping new mothers develop disaster preparedness plans for their families. She used the example of hosting virtual sessions that focus on breastfeeding in disaster planning and participating in council groups to offer insights into the challenges faced by breastfeeding and postpartum mothers during disasters.
Lambert also highlighted the importance of birthworkers knowing their local communities and available resources. She states that being proactive in seeking out local and virtual resources, including disaster preparedness classes, can make a significant difference in helping families prepare for and respond to natural disasters.
National Preparedness Month’s theme of “Take Control in 1, 2, 3” resonates deeply with birth workers, who are at the forefront of supporting perinatal families in times of crisis. Dr. Gross and Jacqueline Lambert’s insights and the shared resources stress the pressing need for birth workers to be well-prepared and well-informed. As the worsening climate crisis continues to pose a threat to pregnant individuals and families, embracing disaster preparedness and support from birth workers can have a significant impact on the well-being of mothers, infants, and families during emergencies — ensures a safer and more secure future for everyone.
This blog was authored by Tiwani Oseni, Community Engagement Coordinator at HealthConnect One