Local churches stepping up to make sure babies are born healthy, grow up strong

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Milwaukee has one of the highest infant death rates in the nation. But now, local churches are stepping up to make sure new babies are born healthy and grow up strong.

In 2013, 117 babies died before their first birthday. The main cause: complications from prematurity or co-sleeping. Now,  the Health Department will join forces with more than 50 local churches to give new moms and dads health-related and parenting support -- creating the Strong Baby Sanctuary Initiative.

"So that either prior to the birth of a baby or shortly after the birth of the baby, they have a place where they can be nurtured," Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Ebenezer Church of God in Christ at 3132 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is a good example. There, parents can find support and learn through The Blanket of Love Program with Columbia St. Mary's.  The Blanket of Love Program is a prenatal and parenting education program.

"We are teaching, and they`ll talk to us and we try to meet their needs," Parish nurse Julia Means said.

The Blanket of Love Program meets weekly at Ebenezer Church of God in Christ. The group gathers at 5:30 p.m. for the meal and educational and sharing meetings continue through 7:00 p.m. each Tuesday night.

"Sometimes they may need food, or a physician or a safe place. They may be in an unsafe relationship," Means said.

However, each church may do it differently.

"One church may take the approach where they will provide the meals. Another may provide babysitting services. Another might provide that safe sanctuary, cribs," Mayor Barrett said.

The Health Department will meet next Saturday with all the churches who have signed up for the Strong Baby Sanctuary Initiative. They'll talk logistics and about designating a volunteer to lead the effort at each church.