'Family Connects': Chicago program aims to help new moms

For many new moms, those first few weeks at home with their new baby can seem like a blur.

There's little sleep and little time to remember all that you read or all that advice you were given about how to care for your newborn, not to mention any surprises that come up.

In a special report, FOX 32's Tia Ewing looks at a little known program helping new moms navigate that vulnerable time.

"She's our pride and joy. Her nickname is ‘sweetheart’ because that's exactly what she is. A little sweetheart," said Sharon Hayes.


That little sweetheart's name is Jillian, the first for her mom Sharon who had everything planned out for her daughter's big arrival.

"A playlist for the delivery room. Pictures everywhere. Mother and daughter outfits, and you have no control," Sharon said.

She had an emergency C-section. After a week in the hospital, she and baby were finally sent home, but their rough ride wasn't over.

"I was in such a panic because I was like anxious. I can't breastfeed. What's going on," Sharon said.

So she called nurse Darlene Hepburn who came to see her at home the next day.

Hepburn is a pediatric nurse at Rush Medical Center, which is one of four hospitals participating in Chicago's pilot for the Family Connects program.

Developed at Duke University, this in-home nurse service for families with newborns is popping up around the country.

"So what we tell people what really we do is we check in with the moms, make sure she is doing okay. We check in and see how the baby is doing," Hepburn said.

On a typical visit, Hepburn says the Family Connects nurse will weigh the baby and then answer lots of questions about feeding, sleeping and how the parents are doing.

"You always see the Gerber baby and you see pictures of people breastfeeding in a field of flowers and think that's the way it's supposed to be," Hepburn said. "And then it ends up being, I'm wearing green pajama pants for two weeks. I haven't showered and I haven't slept."

In case you didn't know, Hepburn says that's all normal when taking care of a newborn.

Since the city's public health department launched the program in March 2020, they've helped nearly 4,000 Chicago families.

"Our plans are to expand to all 15 birthing hospitals here in the next year and then any Chicago resident who gives birth in one of those 15 hospitals will be eligible for this once the program is expanded," said Dr. Candice Robinson, Medical Director for the Chicago Department of Public Health's Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Division.

Right now, the program is only at Rush Medical Center, Mt. Sinai Hospital, University of Chicago Hospital and Humboldt Park Health.

"I remember taking a picture when I was in the hospital of a flyer on the board, and it was the Family Connects. I said 'okay, I'm gonna call them.'"

While Sharon reached out to Family Connects first, it's usually the other way around.

"Family Connects program visits families about three weeks after they've given birth," Hepburn said.

A nurse from either one of the participating hospitals or the city's public health department will call the family to see if they need any help.

"Chicago has a lot of resources. Many times the systems can be complicated and hard to navigate," Dr. Robinson said.

Family Connects nurses can connect families with newborns with resources to help with everything from postpartum depression to scheduling doctor appointments to understanding child care options.

Currently, there is no cost to families who use Family Connects because it's funded by a grant. It is only being offered to families with newborns who live in Chicago.

For more information on the Family Connects program in Chicago, click here.