, Muskogee, OK

November 22, 2012

Program helps first-time moms

Children First offered free through health department

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Jackson Ottenbacher, 2, relaxed in his mother’s arms on a quiet afternoon with a cool breeze ruffling his white-blonde hair.

Jackson snuggled deeper into mother Megan Ottenbacher’s arms as he slept, and she talked about how a special program for first-time mothers has helped her gain confidence in her parenting skills and helped her make it through her first pregnancy.

The Children First program is a free program through the health department. First-time mothers enroll during pregnancy and a nurse begins visiting them in their homes, offering education and advice from everything from eating well to swaddling a baby.

Megan said her visiting nurse has been seeing the family from 28 weeks into her pregnancy, and Jackson “graduated” from the program on his second birthday.

“We call her our ‘baby nurse,’” Megan said. “And we are going to miss her so much. She’s been such a big help to us.”

The nurse first visited once a week for a month, then every other week until Jackson was born. Since then she’s visited every other month.

The visits have helped Megan in numerous ways, she said.

“Especially when I was pregnant. You just have so many questions when it’s your first time,” she said. “So those visits in-between doctor’s visits were very useful.”

Once Jackson was born, the nurse measured his weight each visit to ensure he was gaining weight appropriately, Megan said.

The nurse taught Megan and her husband warning signs of sickness, how to swaddle their son, safety tips, signs of normal development and much more.

The nurse checked the baby equipment the couple purchased while Megan was pregnant to make sure it was up to code and safe for their son. She also assessed Megan’s physical and mental health regularly after Jackson’s birth.

It was a valuable experience for the family.

Linda Hitchye of the Muskogee County Health Department said the Children First program has been in place since 1997.

Since then, the program is credited with greatly reducing low-weight and premature births, and saving the state money in health care for newborns, she said.

Hitchye said she’s seen all ages of first-time mothers come through the program and lots of positive results.

“Most of them have completed high school. Some have gone off to college or obtained employment, so it benefits the mothers well,” Hitchye said. “Overall, the program has improved the outcome of births. Since we’ve been in existence we see less babies being born premature.”

To sign up for the program, contact Hitchye at the Muskogee County Health Department, (918) 683-0321, ext. 292.

Mothers must be in their first pregnancy and qualify for Women, Infants and Children or SoonerCare programs to enroll in Children First.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or

What to do

To sign up for the Children First program during your pregnancy, contact Linda Hitchye at the Muskogee County Health Department, (918) 683-0321, Ext. 292.