People can debate whether it takes a village to rear a child, but if a baby is mom’s first or fourth, somewhere in between or beyond, motherhood is a task no one should be facing alone.

The mother, grandparent, aunt, friends or in-laws of a new mom may be the people to whom she would naturally turn to for help or questions, but that’s not always the case.

The mother of a new baby may be estranged or geographically distant from family members, and someone who’s new to the area may not yet have friends nearby.

To fill the gap, or to add to the circle of friends and family, a Peters Township-based nonprofit known as NurturePA has a network of volunteer mentors to match with moms before they leave the place where they deliver so support is already lined up.

The moms can live anywhere, but NuturePA makes contact with women who deliver at West Penn, Jefferson Regional, Washington or UPMC-Magee Women’s hospitals or the Midwife Center for Birth and Women’s Health, Pittsburgh.

“Our parent coaches reach out to them,” said Kate Brennan, director of operations for NurturePA.

The program began March 17, 2014, and Washington Hospital is reaching its first-year milestone this month as a participant.

“On the days we are at Washington Hospital, we meet with every mom in the birthing center and explain the Nurture program to her,” Brennan said. “It is her choice whether to enroll. There is no criteria or referral process.”

There is no cost to either the mom or the hospital; the program is funded by donations from individuals and foundations.

Text-messaging and a closed-group Facebook page are the tools that open lines of communication.

NurturePA’s Facebook group for mothers and mentors is closed and confidential, using no first or last names.

Meetings or gatherings in person are “not part of our model,” Brennan said. “We are purely text-based.”

That’s because NurturePA fosters anonymity.

NuturePA’s text-messaging uses computer software that “feels and looks like an email system,” Brennan said. “It houses content we have developed using links to community resources so that mentors don’t have to search on their own.”

NurturePA also tracks the domains of the topics on which the software is fielding inquiries: crying, feeding, infant safety when sleeping, teething and parental health and well-being, for example.

Or the back-and-forth could be simply a mother needing a little encouragement. A mentor and mom send an average of three texts per week, which would be around 150 per year.

One topic that has been in the spotlight because of recent outbreaks of measles is infant vaccination.

Although Brennan said she has not seen this coming up frequently, but as an organization, NurturePA follows the recommendations set by the American Academy of Pediatrics on vaccinations.

As a security measure, the software also tracks all of the interactions between participants. The NurturePA staff of five supervises all mentors and does quality assurance checks of the dialog between 100 volunteers known as parent coaches or parent mentors.

“We explain when we enroll a mom that they can text at any time and they should receive a reply within 24 hours,” Brennan said.

One mentor can be available to 10 to 13 moms at a time.

NuturePA is not 911, crisis intervention, or a substitute for contacting a child’s pediatrician.

“We never give medical advice,” Brennan said. “Our focus is making sure the mom is supported when she needs to nurture her baby.

“NurturePA will never hope to replace a relationship with a pediatrician.”

What the mother and mentor might discuss is what to say to a pediatrician, or how to find a ride to a doctor’s appointment.

Brennan, who has been with NurturePA for six years, said, “Our original model is to support women during the first three years of their baby’s life” because it encompasses a critical developmental time span.

The organization has a public Facebook page geared toward outreach and increasing its pool of volunteers, which now number about 100.

Some are relatively new moms in their mid- to late 20s and others are grandparents. The majority are in their 30s. Eleven women who participated as new mothers eventually became mentors.

“I was the original staff member,” Brennan said. “All four of my team members started off as volunteers.

“The crucial connection is motherhood,” she added. “We recruit a volunteer pool with multiple experiences.”

Training was done in person “until we got too large to do that,” Brennan said. “We moved to an online training module about six months ago.

“We also feel very strongly,” she added, “that NurturePA is just one role to connect mothers to these resources.”

Since mid-2014, NurturePA has enrolled more than 2,200 moms. More than 700 mothers are currently using the program.

Staff Writer

Staff Writer Barbara S. Miller is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College. She covers Washington County government, courts and general assignments.

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