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Dr. Claudia Gold, pediatrician and founder of the Hello It's Me Project, a community-based initiative to promote healthy parent-infant relationships from birth.

The Hello It’s Me Project comes to Pittsfield: Dr. Claudia Gold at the helm of initiative to create healthy bonds between parents and infants

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By Wednesday, Mar 6, 2019 Life In the Berkshires

Pittsfield — Dr. Claudia Gold has made a career of thinking, in a big way, about how to raise healthy children. A pediatrician and writer with a longstanding interest in addressing children’s mental health care in a preventive model, Gold has practiced general and behavioral pediatrics for 25 years. She currently specializes in early childhood mental health and is the director of the Hello It’s Me Project, a community-based initiative to promote healthy parent-infant relationships from birth. If all goes according to plan, the project, which launched in South County two years ago, will make its debut in Pittsfield later this month.

“[To] get things going in a healthy way from the very beginning is not the end of the story,” said Gold, whose primary aim is to empower new parents not only when their babies are born, but also within a framework that will support them going forward. The goal is to bolster confidence and position parents to support their children’s subsequent development. “[The goal is to] shift the conversation so the authority is with the parent to know what they need,” Gold explained, which means giving every parent a voice. “It’s very simple,” she says.

The Hello It’s Me Project shines a spotlight on these tender new relationships, investing resources around the birth of a baby with the long-term goal of building a healthy community from the bottom up. While the project will serve the entire community, it is particularly well-suited to support parent-infant relationships impacted by the growing opioid crisis. While the program has particular benefits for an opioid-addicted parent and their unregulated baby, Gold is quick to point out that “It’s for everyone.”

“Everyone struggles in their own unique way,” Gold explained, which means “getting [all parents] on firm footing from the beginning is helpful.” As if parenting were not difficult enough, it has become increasingly taboo for new parents to give voice to the fact that being a parent is a daunting job, one that persists long after your baby outgrows diapers and afternoon naps. In the 1980s, renowned pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton (who died last March at the age of 99) developed the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale to organize his observations of the newborn infant’s role in development of the emerging parent-child relationship. He recognized that each baby comes into the world with unique qualities together with a tremendous capacity for connection and communication.

Nurses receiving training in the Newborn Behavioral Observations system. Photo courtesy Hello It’s Me Project

The Newborn Behavioral Observations (NBO) system, developed from the NBAS, is a clinical relationship-building tool that came to Berkshire County in 2017–18. In a program under the auspices of the Austen Riggs Center in close collaboration with Berkshire United Way and funded in large part by the John and Geraldine Weil Memorial Charitable Foundation, maternity nurses from Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington and a range of practitioners who work with young infants and families in South County gathered together over two days to learn the NBO. Gold, who continues to play a central role in implementation of the South County NBO project, is now bringing the program in an expanded form to Pittsfield.

“The community engagement piece is to bring all the players together—early interventionists, lactation consultants, anyone who might be feeling overwhelmed by the number of families who are struggling,” Gold explained. In short? “It’s not just maternity nurses,” she emphasized, of the myriad individuals necessary to promote healthy parent-infant relationships going forward. A set of 18 neurobehavioral observations, the NBO protects time for nonjudgmental listening to parents and infant together, literally offering space to make room for this new person in the family. Central to the NBO is the idea that, for parents, mistakes in reading a baby’s signals are not only inevitable but also necessary. The real takeaway? Recognizing that growth happens in the reconnection.

Dr. Herbert Kantor, chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield. Photo courtesy Berkshire Health Systems

The Hello It’s Me Project will offer NBO training to all nurses on the Mother Baby Unit of Berkshire Medical Center with the aim of integrating the NBO into routine care of newborns and their families. In Pittsfield, where ostensibly there is a greater need, the program is more broad-reaching and comprehensive. Partners in the project include Berkshire Obstetrics and Gynecology, where the program will be introduced in the prenatal period. “That was always our intention,” said Gold, “to recognize that our relationship with the baby begins before the baby is born.” Dr. Herbert Kantor, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology/maternal child health at Berkshire Medical Center since 1992, concurs. “We are incredibly excited to partner with Dr. Claudia Gold and her Newborn Behavioral Observation program,” Kantor said in a recent statement. “Dr. Gold will bring a wealth of clinical experience and developmental research to our staff and the families they care for. We hope to integrate her program into our outpatient prenatal care as well so that moms, families and staff can learn about and be better prepared for the depth of connection can occur throughout the pregnancy and will deepen dramatically during the early newborn period. In today’s world of ‘high tech’ medical care, it’s wonderful to recognize and celebrate the therapeutic power of the unique human connection that can occur between newborns and their parents.”

Gold’s project, one rife with details, is embedded in a rather large conceptual frame. “There is just an enormous amount known about how development proceeds and how it gets derailed,” Gold explained. To change the course of said development, and redirect it in a positive way, can be linked to later health outcomes both physical and emotional, hence Gold’s desire to bring this cutting edge science into the community through ongoing educational opportunities.

NBO certification is now required for maternity nurses at Fairview Hospital. They have embraced the project, integrating the tool into their natural workflow, and will be presenting their work at AWHONN, an international nursing conference in Atlanta, in June. Describing their experience using the NBO for the presentation, they write: “Parents go home with an understanding that the baby sends messages and has routines that are comforting, which, in turn, builds a stronger relationship. It has been a vehicle to empower parents and allows us to shift the focus from nurse to parents as the expert of their infant.”

The Hello It’s Me Project will host quarterly community gatherings and educational events for practitioners trained in the NBO. These events offer opportunities to learn about each other’s experience, and continue to support one another in this critical and often challenging work while strengthening referral networks to enable the community to hold families in need of support beyond the immediate newborn period. Community support for the project has so far been tremendous. BMC Mother Baby Unit clinical manager Caroline Tufts, RN, BSN, who has played a key role in bringing the project to Pittsfield, captured its essence, saying, “We’re making the world a better place, one baby at a time.”

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