Aetna Foundation Funds Research, Programs to Encourage Breastfeeding and Combat Infant Mortality

-- Initiatives Target At-Risk Women and Their Babies in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas --

HARTFORD, Conn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Seven nonprofit organizations have been awarded grants totaling $363,650 from the Aetna Foundation to help expectant women from minority populations have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. The funding is part of the Aetna Foundation’s commitment to promoting racial and ethnic health care equity by reducing the high rate of infant mortality in the U.S. among vulnerable communities, particularly in the African-American population where preterm birth and mortality in the first year of life are double the rates of the white population and where breastfeeding rates are lower.

The grants will address such issues as breastfeeding, obesity and pregnancy, perinatal stress, access to prenatal care and the effectiveness of doulas. The programs will focus on at-risk women and their babies in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“Helping at-risk mothers access high-quality care, good nutrition and education about healthy living is a way to ensure their children get a healthy start in life,” said Sharon Dalton, vice president of the Aetna Foundation and director of its regional grant making. “For example, we know that breastfeeding can boost immunity and reduce the risk of obesity for children, and that stress-reduction and healthy weight in expectant mothers lead to fewer complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

“Our support of these programs aims to broaden the reach of much-needed services to women from vulnerable populations and to help organizations research the effectiveness of their programs to deliver strong results,” said Dalton.

The Aetna Foundation grants are:

Multiple locations

  • $145,150 to the Nurse-Family Partnership National Service Office, based in Denver, for a two-year quality-improvement study to develop new interventions to increase breastfeeding rates among first-time African-American mothers participating in its home-visit outreach program. The Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is available in 34 states and annually reaches more than 22,000 low-income women from pregnancy through the first two years of the child’s life. Specially educated nurses work closely with their clients to develop lifestyle behaviors that can lead to healthier pregnancies, stronger parenting skills, emotionally and physically healthier children and greater economic self-sufficiency. Promoting breastfeeding, which has well-documented health benefits for both children and their mothers, is a core goal of the program. Currently, about 79 percent of all NFP clients nationwide initiate breastfeeding and nearly 28 percent are still breastfeeding six months later. But NFP’s data also show that its African-American clients start breastfeeding at significantly lower rates and give up more quickly than women of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. To better understand why, the NFP National Service Office staff will hold focus groups to examine attitudes toward breastfeeding and use the findings to design and test new strategies to encourage breastfeeding among 240 first-time African-American mothers in three regions where breastfeeding is less prevalent: Philadelphia; 12 counties in New Jersey (Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, and Union); and four Texas cities (Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio).


  • $43,500 to Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Broward County, Inc., based in Ft. Lauderdale, in support of its three-year program, the Mahogany Project, that reaches out to at-risk pregnant women of color living in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods who have little or no prenatal care or financial resources. The program provides the women with medical case management services from early pregnancy until their babies’ first birthday, and includes group support meetings, lactation consultations, health education and training, and emergency assistance.
  • $40,000 to Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Palm Beach County, Inc., headquartered in Delray Beach, in support of its Health Care Navigation program and Mobile Outreach Center that helps uninsured pregnant teenagers and women in Palm Beach County obtain consistent access to prenatal and other health care services that can lead to healthy birth outcomes. Bilingual advocates guide at-risk pregnant women through the safety-net health care system, from explaining the requirements of eligibility to providing translation services at appointments.


  • $30,000 to Neighborhood Centers Inc. of Houston, for an observational study to examine the impact of prenatal, delivery and postpartum services by certified doulas on the birth outcomes and experience of low-income African-American and Hispanic mothers, ages 15 – 25, living in Houston. The study will also measure outcomes between doula intervention and breastfeeding, mother/child attachment, maternal well-being and infant health and development. In Houston, only about half of African-American and Hispanic women receive prenatal care, and the city’s infant mortality rates are higher than state and national averages.


  • $50,000 to the Maternity Care Coalition of Philadelphia, to support the first year of a three-year research study to evaluate a multi-component, low-cost program to help new mothers reduce their postpartum weight retention and increase the duration of newborn breastfeeding to curb maternal and childhood obesity and the risk of cardiovascular disease and other obesity-related illnesses. The study will track 220 low-income women in a multi-site, randomized controlled trial to measure the effectiveness of the program that provides motivational text messages, in-home physical activity aids, social support, lactation consultations and nutrition and health education.

Northern California

  • $25,000 to the Institute of Noetic Sciences™ based in Petaluma, to translate into Spanish and make culturally appropriate enhancements to the Mindful Motherhood Training, an educational program for pregnant women that teaches mindfulness-based skills to reduce chronic stress, which often afflicts minority populations at higher rates and can lead to preterm birth, childbirth complications, low-birth weight and impaired cognitive development. The program is currently being modified in a project funded by the National Institutes of Health to include a greater emphasis on healthy eating and living behaviors to address the needs of the growing population of obese low- and middle-income pregnant women whose weight puts them at higher risk of complications in pregnancy and childbirth. The Spanish-language version of the Mindful Motherhood Training will be piloted, tested and refined to ensure its effectiveness and cultural literacy among Hispanic populations.
  • $30,000 to La Clínica de La Raza, Inc., to expand the capability of its Oakland-based clinic, the San Antonio Neighborhood Health Center, to provide high-quality and culturally appropriate perinatal support services in languages other than Spanish to accommodate the growing diversity of the once primarily Hispanic, low-income neighborhood. Designed to reduce the number of low birth-weight babies born in the community, the Health Center’s perinatal program helps eligible women enroll in California’s Medicaid program and provides individual and group health education classes, birth control method counseling, psychosocial case management, nutrition education and counseling, and breastfeeding instruction.

Promoting racial and ethnic health care equity is one of the Aetna Foundation’s three program areas, in addition to combating obesity and advancing integrated and coordinated health care. Last year, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation awarded $730,000 in research grants to address the high rate of infant mortality among African-American newborns. Also in 2011, the Aetna Foundation was a sponsor of the 16th Annual International Meeting of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, held in Miami, to assist the organization in disseminating evidence-based information about breastfeeding as an obesity prevention strategy to health care providers.

About the Aetna Foundation

The Aetna Foundation, Inc. is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc. Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed $394 million in grants and sponsorships, including $15.6 million in 2010. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered more than 2.3 million hours since 2003. Aetna’s current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit


The Aetna Foundation, Inc.
Susan Millerick, 860-273-0536
[email protected]

KEYWORDS:   United States  North America  Connecticut

INDUSTRY KEYWORDS:   Women  Other Consumer  Health  Fitness & Nutrition  Other Health  Philanthropy  Baby/Maternity  Consumer  African-American  Foundation  Managed Care