Perinatal Resource Mapping

March 4, 2022
UR interns gather data for Richmond's first perinatal resources database

By Madyson Fitzgerald, '23, Communications Assistant for Equity & Community

Last spring, five University of Richmond interns helped collect data on Richmond's perinatal resources with Nurture. Now, almost a year later, the project is helping create the city’s first perinatal resources database.

Nurture is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to "improve the health and well-being of childbearing families through fitness, education, social support, and community engagement," according to their website. Their goal is to create a holistic and comprehensive perinatal resource center for those that are pregnant or in their first two years of parenting.

The Perinatal Resource Mapping Project started as an initiative by Nurture to collect information about perinatal resources in the Greater Richmond Region, according to their website. Those resources include lactation support providers, perinatal mental health providers and doula support providers.

With the help of five undergraduate interns from UR in spring 2021, Nurture asked providers to complete a survey that would add their information to the database.

Their first task was to analyze Nurture’s COVID-19 Survey for Pregnant and Postpartum Parents. Jonathan Huang, a Bonner scholar who graduated in May 2021, was one of the interns tasked with data visualization for the survey. Now, Huang is using those same skills at his current job as a clinical research coordinator.

"I would say my skills with taking data and visualizing it has been really useful, at least for my current job as part of a research lab," Huang said, "and we're using different programming languages to model the brain to help find better treatments for seizures. So, I think something that I didn't realize when I was in college — since I was a biology major — was how interesting and cool programming can be."

Drawing on information from the survey, the interns were able to identify the top needs for families in the Virginia Department of Health’s Planning District 15. Shortly after, they started conducting outreach to providers in the region to collect information that would be used for the Perinatal Resource Mapping Project.

In early February, the data collected from the project was presented to community members. Isabella Araujo, a UR alum, continued working with Nurture after graduation while becoming a medical assistant at a family medicine practice in Long Island, New York, and was able to help present the findings, she said.

Araujo was tasked with reaching out to maternal mental health providers in the region and compiling that information into a spreadsheet, she said. From there, she collected their contact information and began the tedious process of reaching out to each provider to complete the survey that would put their information into the database.

"It's a more specific way for parents to find the resources that they desperately need," Araujo said. "If you're awake at four in the morning with a crying baby who's not latching and who's hungry and needs to feed, the last thing you need is to get on Google and spend hours or days — like it took me and the other interns — to try to get a hold of someone who can teach you."

Araujo said that the Perinatal Resource Mapping Project had taken a lot of time and effort.

"And a lot of times, people give up if they aren't finding the resources that they need quickly enough," she said.

Leslie Lytle, founder and executive director of Nurture, founded the organization as a result of the experiences her students and peers had shared through her 18 years as a prenatal yoga instructor, she said. The people that most needed to participate in the prenatal yoga classes, which had a profound effect, were the people who could not afford it, she said.

"We were trying to make some of the things that we had found that were really helpful to parents to be more accessible to everybody at every income level," Lytle said.

They are now entering phase two, she said, which is to create a directory for pregnant postpartum parents. The student interns were really valuable during the process, she said.

"We really appreciate their ability and their skill sets," Lytle said. "And that was very much a group project."

Camilla Nonterah, a professor of health psychology at UR, taught a couple of the students who interned at Nurture through her Women's Health class, she said. In the class, students learned about the ways in which the biopsychosocial approach could be influential in understanding women's health, their treatment and recovery, different policies and how that could all influence women's health, she said.

"The growing group of people are seeing the value of doing this community based type of work," Nonterah said. "And you see pockets of it in different fields that are all related to or invested in improving health outcomes."

A lot of students really benefit from having these community experiences, Nonterah said. It may not be as apparent to them how it's related to women's health issues, and so pushing them to think critically about how it's related to women's health issues had definitely been fulfilling, she said.

"As a professor, to see students have these lightbulb moments, and to see them embrace the projects — and I think some of those students who engaged in these projects actually ended up continuing with them even after the class — it's nice to have these moments where students get those in-depth experiences," Nonterah said. "And that's a big reason why I do the community based learning because I think it can provide and really supplement the instructional aspects of the course."

Araujo, who had taken a class with Nonterah while at UR, said she wished that everyone who was going into medical school, for nursing school or whatever it may be, would actually be required to spend a few months or a few weeks working with nonprofit organizations like Nurture.

"I feel like all of my experiences with Nurture — even just attending their maternal Monday health press on Zoom and hearing the experiences from a lot of these women in Richmond — I feel like it's going to make me a much better provider," Araujo said.