Member Spotlight: The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses

By Perdita Henry

Nurses play a big role in the healthcare system. They’re the first person you speak to before the doctor arrives and the last person you speak to before you head back to the receptionist desk. They re-iterate the doctor’s instructions and can help ensure you understand the reasons behind them. Of course, that’s just a fraction of what they do. They are integral to care teams in every medical setting.

They also get together and advocate for better patient care. The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses does just that, and more. Working to keep their members up to date on the latest professional development and education because they understand the critical role nurses play in patient education.

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

This year AWHONN is celebrating 50 years as an independent organization representing women’s health, obstetric, and neonatal nurses across the country. We develop educational products to assist in the training of nurses, our position statements and scholarly journals provide up-to-date clinical information and practice guidelines for nurses, and we have a robust network of state sections and local chapters to connect members in a more personal way.

Additionally, we have a consumer division that produces Healthy Mom&Baby magazine, and the website, Health4Mom.org, which is geared toward patients and provides important content relevant to expecting parents.

We also work to advocate for policy changes that positively impact the health of women and newborns at all government levels.

Texas recently wrapped up its 86th legislative session. What were AWHONN’s goals?

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. HB 1651, which related to the care of incarcerated women during and after their pregnancy, and HB 253, which related to a strategic plan to address postpartum depression, both spoke to our priority to address care for vulnerable populations. 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.

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?

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. 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. We encourage patients to 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 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. During our recent state conference, the Texas section held a general session discussion on 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 members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, and others, to discuss solutions, but we know there is more work to do.

What is the POST-BIRTH Warning Signs Education Program and why is it important?

POST-BIRTH is a two-fold educational initiative focusing on nurse-led education for postpartum patients and increasing patient awareness about the most important emergency symptoms.

Postpartum hemorrhage and pre-eclampsia are two serious complications that can arise after women return home from the hospital. Usually, postpartum hospital stays are only a day or two. There’s a lot of new information for patients to remember while they’re 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 immediate treatment.

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, or 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 AWHONN?

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 everyone deserves care that meets the patient in their own community and that’s 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 the future of women’s healthcare involves practitioners at all levels of specialty including, advanced practice nurses, nurse midwives, inpatient high-risk obstetric nurses, and collaboration across the practices.