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Member spotlight: The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

By Perdita Henry

Can you tell me more about The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) and its work?

AWHONN is celebrating its 50th Anniversary as an independent organization representing women’s health, obstetric and neonatal nurses across the country. In addition to developing educational products to assist in the training of nurses, AWHONN’s position statements and scholarly journals provide up to date clinical information and practice guidelines for its nurses. AWHONN also has a robust network of state sections and local chapters to connect members in a more personal way. In addition AWHONN works to advocate for policy changes at all levels of government to positively impact the health of women and newborns. We also have a consumer division that produces Healthy Mom&Baby magazine and a website geared toward our patients and provides important content relevant to expecting parents.

Texas recently wrapped up its 86th legislative session. What were AWHONN’s goals for the session and what do you consider a win?

AWHONN has over 10 policy priorities that we track and advocate for but one of our big areas of focus this Texas legislative session was expanding access to care for vulnerable populations and to improve access to and funding for preventive health care services. Related to those goals we were excited to see a number of initiatives to expand access to care following a pregnancy even though those pieces of legislation were not passed. HB 1651 related to the care of incarcerated women during and after their pregnancy, HB 253 related to a strategic plan to address postpartum depression both speak to our priority to address care for vulnerable populations.

In the conversation surrounding maternal mortality and morbidity it’s not always clear the roles nurses play in maternity and postpartum care. What should people know when it comes to engaging their nurse during their care?

One of the biggest roles nurses play in the healthcare system is that of educator. While women see their primary provider a number of times throughout their pregnancy, there is never enough time to teach all of the information they might need to know to care for themselves and their newborn and nurses are poised to fill that need. We want our patients to be actively engaged in their health and at the center of all decisions so ask questions through the whole process.

Racial disparities and implicit bias are factors in maternal mortality and morbidity rates. How does AWHONN create awareness and influence change surrounding those issues?

This is such an important focus for our organization from our executive office down to our local chapters. We have enough data now showing that black women have higher rates of morbidity and mortality than any other group but how do we translate this data into actionable items to improve these outcomes? Addressing racism and implicit bias is so important. Our Texas section had a general session at our most recent state conference discussing implicit bias in an effort to encourage self-reflection and conversation. Nationally, AWHONN has supported and is in ongoing conversations with organizations and policymakers who are deeply invested in this topic like the Black Maternal Health Caucus members and Black Mamas Matter Alliance among others to discuss solutions but we know there is more work to do.

Why is it important for your organization to be a TWHC member?

AWHONN’s Section and chapter leaders consist of an all-volunteer group meaning that most of our leaders have full time jobs. As one of the state legislative coordinators I work as a nightshift floor nurse but some of our leaders are in management, some in educational positions and a variety of other settings. It would not be possible to monitor all of the different pieces of legislation, research budget issues and provide feedback and testimony without the support of TWHC. The information we receive from the coalition is invaluable.

What does an ideal future for women’s health look like according to the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses?

AWHONN supports a woman’s access to care throughout her lifespan, from puberty through childbearing age and into the post-childbearing years. We strongly feel that every patient deserves care that meets the patient in their own community and that is sensitive to the unique needs of each person. We support the full range of care options and decisions made between patients and providers and the centering of care decisions on the needs and preferences of each patient as an individual. We hope that the future of women’s healthcare involves practitioners at all levels of specialty including advanced practice nurses, nurse midwives as well as inpatient high risk obstetric nurses and collaboration across the practices.

What is POST-BIRTH education and why is it important?

This is a two-fold educational initiative aimed both at focusing the discharge teaching being provided by nurses for postpartum patients and increasing the awareness of patients about the most important emergency symptoms to be aware of. Postpartum hemorrhage and pre-eclampsia are two serious complications that can arise after women have been discharged home from the hospital. Postpartum stays are often only a day or two and there is a lot of new information for patients to remember while they are also recovering from delivery and adjusting to caring for a new baby. The initiative includes an easy to read handout designed to be referenced at home giving clear instructions about what symptoms to call their provider about and when to seek treatment immediately.

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