‘Changing the culture’ for pregnant moms with addiction Hospital officials say program inspirational for patients, staff | Local News

‘Changing the culture’ for pregnant moms with addiction Hospital officials say program inspirational for patients, staff | Local News

BEVERLY — When a pregnant woman who is struggling with addiction walks through the doors of Beverly Hospital, Christina Keane can identify with her fears.

Will my baby be healthy? Will my baby be taken away from me? Will I be a good mother?

Keane is now 30 years old and the mother of a healthy fourth-grader. But she was once one of those young mothers trying to cope with the perilous combination of addiction and pregnancy.

“It’s scary,” Keane said. “There was a time I didn’t think I’d be able to be a good mother.”

Keane is now putting her experience to use as one of three peer recovery moms at Beverly Hospital. The women are all mothers who are in recovery themselves and are available to meet with pregnant and postpartum women struggling with opioid use disorder.

The peer recovery moms are just one aspect of the hospital’s Moms Do Care program, which includes a team of doctors, social workers and mental health clinicians who support at-risk mothers through pregnancy and for up to one year after they give birth.

The program, which is funded by a $1 million grant from the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, began in June 2017. Nine women were in the first group to complete the program, and 39 are currently enrolled.

Dr. Melissa Sherman, the program’s medical director, said all nine women from the initial group are still in treatment.

“That’s an amazing retention rate,” she said. “It’s under 50 percent for most programs.”

Sherman, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, said Beverly Hospital started the program because it needed to do a better job of taking care of women in recovery who are pregnant.

“We had no pregnancy support outside of the standard prenatal care,” she said.

Now, pregnant women with addiction problems are treated by a team of providers that address their particular needs and history. The women are offered individual counseling, group therapy, recovery yoga, therapeutic arts, and childbirth and childcare education, in addition to medication-assisted treatment for their addiction, such as Suboxone.

Sherman said women in their situation are obviously worried about what impact their drug use will have on their baby, and are often plagued by guilt. Some babies show signs of neonatal abstinence syndrome, a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from drugs he’s exposed to in the womb before birth, and require medication. But instead of being taken to the busy special care nursery, the baby stays in the room with the mother, where he can benefit from swaddling and a quieter atmosphere.

The program’s emphasis on pre-natal care and non-pharmacologic care like breast feeding and infant massage have produced “significant” reductions in the number of babies that need medication, Sherman said.

The Moms Do Care team can also advocate for the mother with the Massachusetts Department of Children & Familes when it comes to child custody, Sherman said.

The team follows the women for a year after delivering, much longer than the six weeks for traditional post-natal care. Sherman said that is key because studies have shown that women in recovery are most at risk of an overdose six months after giving birth.

Sherman said the Moms Do Care program is helping to change the culture at Beverly Hospital when it comes to treating pregnant women with addiction. Those women often have a history of trauma, maybe including an abusive relationship, and have had negative encounters with the health care system, she said.

“There’s been an incredible turnaround among our staff,” Sherman said. “People are able to think more broadly about people’s circumstances.”

Sherman said the peer recovery moms have served as an inspiration. Several of the mothers who have gone through the program have applied to become peer recovery moms themselves.

“A lot of women are coming in and saying, ‘I could be that person with time and persistence,'” she said.

Keane, the peer recovery mom, said her common experience helps her connect with the women in the program, who often feel “lost and alone.” Keane is now attending classes at North Shore Community College and wants to earn a master’s degree in social work.

“We’re trying to show these women that they can lead a life they never imagined,” she said. “They can do anything.”

For more information on the Moms Do Care Program at Beverly Hospital, call 978-232-5518. 

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

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