Education / Health

It takes a clinic to raise a child

Photo by Jacqueline Wang

Babies play with each other as their mothers talk to Dr. Machuca

South Bronx Health Care Center offers parents support

By Jacqueline Wang

It’s 10 a.m., and the clamor of wailing babies is reverberating through the South Bronx Health Center for Children and Families at 871 Prospect Avenue. In a room filled with pink and blue balloons, Dr. Hildred Machuca is recording the height and weight of Jadelin Cintron, age 1, who refuses to stop crying until she is placed back into the familiar arms of her mother.

Waiting their turn to be measured are three other one-year-olds, accompanied by their mothers. The mothers chat, grazing over such topics as which brand of diapers provides the best fit. When the check-ups are completed, the families gather in a circle, facing one another.

“Well,” says Machuca, “now that they’re moving around, let’s discuss what they should be doing. What are they doing now that they weren’t doing a few months ago?”

This is a session of a program called Well Baby Group Care, which meets every month or two at the health center run by Montefiore Medical Center.

In contrast to regular pediatric visits, which usually last only about 15 minutes, participants in the Well Baby Group spend two hours with one another and the doctor. She is able to offer more information to the parents and, through them, the community, Machuca explains.

At this particular session, the group is throwing a birthday party for the one-year-olds. A large cake sits on the table, neatly decorated in icing with drawings of balloons and “Happy Birthday” written across it. . Since the babies have all been part of the group since birth, the families are all well acquainted and are comfortable with one another.

“Deionah hits her older sister all the time,” complains her mother Nadette Haywood.

“When Jadelin has a temper tantrum I get down to her level and explain to her why she can’t do that,” offers fellow mother Migdalia Roman.

Machuca agrees with Roman, explaining to the mothers that it is best to be at eye level with children when talking to them. She also advises ignoring tantrums, so that the children will learn that screaming won’t get them attention.

The discussion expands to cover all sorts of topics, including safety precautions that should be taken, how developed the children should be at age 1 and what kinds of foods they should be eating.

One of the program’s goals is to battle the epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the South Bronx by encouraging a healthy diet. Machuca and nutritionist Sandra Arévalo encourage parents to become role models for their children from birth.

Using fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables Arévalo makes omelettes, showing the parents that they can use what they have available, and can get a healthy breakfast on the table regardless of time or budget constraints.

Nutritionist Sandra Arévalo demonstrates how to cook a healthy breakfast

Nutritionist Sandra Arévalo demonstrates how to cook a healthy breakfast

She also uses a juicer to prepare carrot juice and mixes it with orange juice to make orange-carrot juice. The faces of the parents depict their reluctance to try the juice, but their reluctance soon turns into surprise. “It’s actually not bad,” exclaims Haywood.

Before cutting the cake, Machuca tests the babies for anemia and gives them three shots: one for chicken pox, one for measles, mumps, and rubella and one for Hepatitis A. As they discuss the seasonal flu shots and the availability of the H1N1 flu shots, Machuca recommends to the parents that they get the vaccines to protect their children, since they are always in close contact. Then she hands out Tylenol and shows the parents how to give the medication to babies, all of whom are crying from the needles.

The program has “been really helpful for new parents,” said Jorge Hidalgo, Karla Hidalgo’s father. It is not only for new parents, however. Haywood and Roman have both had other children. “All kids aren’t the same,” Haywood says. “After a while you just forget,” Roman explains.

For these moms, the program is a sort of “refresher course,” Machuca says, adding that in each group, the families are able to help each other out through personal experience, and this gives them a sense of community and support.

Since it began in February 2007, the Well Baby Group Care has changed. “We are always evolving with each group, since each group has its own concerns and issues. We learn from each group what works and what doesn’t,” Machuca says.

What stays constant, she continues, is the purpose of the program: to “enrich the lives of parents and families by using the infant.”

The program gives parents the support that they need and teaches them how to deal with the unavoidable stress that comes with being a parent. “You always need support as a mother,” Machuca concludes with a definitive nod.

A version of this story appeared in the March 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.

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