Voices from the Field: Schools Prepare Pregnant Women For Birth And Newborn Care

“I am really much inspired and I have come to the class with pleasure. Sometimes the information we get outside from our neighbors, friends and families is controversial, and here, I am sure, I’ll acquire the most valuable information, which will help me to overcome my fear,” says Lilit Handunts, mother-to-be and participant in one of Armenia’s newly launched Schools of Motherhood.

The Schools of Motherhood serve as an educational platform crucial for a positive pregnancy outcome and effective newborn and infant care practices. USAID’s Project NOVA, in which IntraHealth International is a partner, supported the establishment of four of these schools—at Vedi Maternity House, Sisian Medical Center, Talin Medical Center and Vayk Medical Union—in provinces in Southern Armenia. The project, led by Emerging Markets Group, celebrated the schools’ launch on April 7 and 8 to commemorate the Day of Beauty and Motherhood in Armenia. Now the schools have welcomed pregnant women into the first class offerings.

Armenia’s Ministry of Health mandated the establishment of Schools of Motherhood in December 2005 and stipulated national regulations regarding the organization and provision of antenatal and postnatal services. In spite of the Ministry’s plans to institutionalize the schools across Armenia, visits to the regions revealed that they barely functioned outside the capital city. This led to, Project NOVA’s mandate to strengthen the Schools of Motherhood initiative.

In class, women receive physical and psychological preparedness and support for childbirth, information on the delivery process and its stages and on the importance of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy and the postpartum period. The themes are split up into five classes offered by practicing obstetricians/gynecologists on a regular basis. Pregnant women acquire practical knowledge and skills on such topics as overcoming delivery-related fears and practicing exclusive breastfeeding. In addition, future fathers are highly encouraged to participate in the classes so they can better understand pregnancy- and delivery-related issues and be supportive of their partners.

“Here we can talk to other pregnant women, share our experience, discuss our problems and relax. Although this is my second pregnancy, I believe I’ll increase my practical knowledge on the process of pregnancy and delivery,” notes Greta Mkrtchyan, another mother-to-be.

IntraHealth trained personnel at the sites, providing a refresher training to ten obstetricians/gynecologists and midwives. The training—which covered the Government of Armenia’s standards for Schools of Motherhood lessons and how to set them up and the content of five mandatory lessons—gave the health care providers an opportunity to update their knowledge in conducting birth preparedness classes.

IntraHealth also purchased furniture, carpets and exercise balls for the schools and renovated a room in the Vedi Maternity House to serve as a school.

In order to enhance the visual appearance of the Schools of Motherhood and make them more attractive for mothers-to-be, Project NOVA organized a children’s artwork competition called “Happy Family in My Imagination.” About 80 children participated from the four regions of Armenia where the schools have been established. The best paintings are now posted on the walls of the newly established schools.

“I really love these pictures on the walls,” exclaims Gayane Ikhtiaryan, a school participant. “They are great and fill me with positive energy. I think we can relax here and have a friendly talk with our providers.”

Establishing the Schools of Motherhood supports Project NOVA’s goal of improving maternal and child health care services in rural Armenia.

Project NOVA is funded by the United States Agency for International Development and is managed by Emerging Markets Group in collaboration with IntraHealth International and Save the Children. Major partners are the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Armenia, regional authorities, medical training institutes and several local non-governmental organizations.