Healthy Brains from Birth: Raising Parental Awareness on Early Childhood Brain Development in HealthPartners Birth Centers
Physician Assistant M.S.
The human brain most efficiently and rapidly develops during the first three years of life with nurturing and stimulating serve-and-return interactions (Britto et al., 2017; Center for the Developing Child 2021). Because not all parents are aware of their impact during this pivotal period of brain development, particularly before six months of age (Zero to Three, Bezos Family Foundation, & SoAct Consulting, 2016), a movement known as Little Moments Count (LMC) aims to educate and empower families to support the healthy brain development of their children through practical serve-and-return interactions involving talking, reading, playing and singing. While LMC programs are currently introduced to parents by healthcare providers during well-child visits, they are working to expand their initiatives to reach a younger population in HealthPartners birth centers. The purpose of this quantitative community research project was to provide HealthPartners and Reach Out and Read Minnesota (RORM) with a recommendation for a viable and effective expansion of LMC to an inpatient setting. The recommendation was based primarily on the education, priorities and beliefs of new parents on early childhood brain development and serve-and-return interactions. In addition, the research team considered perspectives of nursing management and staff at HealthPartners birth centers and established evidence-based parenting interventions. Quantitative data was gathered from new parents in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin through an anonymous Qualtrics survey and from birth center staff via informal interviews. A total of 93 participants met the survey’s inclusion criteria. Regarding parent education, the survey revealed that the vast majority of parents (61%) had received information on the importance of serve-and-return interactions during their postnatal care compared to prenatal care (26.5%) and hospitalization (17.7%). There was a wide variety of avenues in which parents had received information, but the primary source was from a primary care provider (52.1%), whom parents most frequently trusted to provide accurate healthcare information. Regarding education preferences, the survey revealed that some parents were interested in receiving information on the importance of serve-and-return interactions during their prenatal care (23.5%) or their hospitalization (15.1%). However, almost 60% of parents preferred to receive this information during their postnatal care or the well-child visits, suggesting that parents feel overwhelmed with the amount of information they receive during the first stages of their journey. Yet despite feeling overwhelmed, 100% of participants made time to talk, read, play, or sing to their child at least a few times per week, and 100% of parents believed this impacted their child’s health. This notable finding contrasted with previous research that indicated a lack of parental awareness on the impact of positive parenting before six months of age (Zero to Three, Bezos Family Foundation, & SoAct Consulting, 2016). However, as supported by the 2016 parent survey, the current study found that parents are motivated to improve their parenting, and desire additional strategies and support. HealthPartners birthing centers expressed interest in providing more resources to parents regarding the importance of talking, reading, playing and singing to their children. However, birthing centers are facing several limitations with initiating novel interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers concluded from parental and facility needs that the discussion of early childhood brain development between parents and healthcare providers should be seen on a continuum that tailors interventions to the unique needs of parents during each phase of their journeys.
Masters of Science in Physician Assistant
Melum, A., Smith, C., & Van Meter, C. R. (2022). Healthy Brains from Birth: Raising Parental Awareness on Early Childhood Brain Development in HealthPartners Birth Centers [Masterʼs thesis, Bethel University]. Spark Repository. https://spark.bethel.edu/etd/781