“I’ve always been interested in designing interventions that are targeted to improving the health outcomes of high-risk populations–particularly children, adolescents, pregnant teens and mothers,” says Luz Porter, RN-CS (FNP), PhD, a graduate professor at Florida International University School of Nursing (FIU SoN) in Miami. One highly vulnerable population about which she is particularly concerned are substance-abusing mothers (SAMs) and the approximately 750,000 babies who are born each year with drug addictions as a result of their mothers’ habits.

In 2003, Porter’s interest in developing an intervention program for these high-risk infants and mothers made history: She secured nearly $1 million in federal funding to conduct a pioneering four-year study that will examine the long-term effects of incorporating Infant Massage (IM) therapy as part of intervention and caretaking programs for SAMs and their babies. The grant, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau (Title V, Social Security Act), is the first of its kind in this area of maternal/child nursing research and one of the largest federally funded research grants generated by an FIU SoN faculty member to date.

According to Porter, who is an officer of the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations and a past vice president of the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association, previous studies have shown that IM therapy has definite developmental benefits for drug-exposed infants. For example, massaging these babies helps increase their ability to maintain a functional, alert state. It also helps stabilize their heart rate and respiration, improving sleep, relaxation and the ability to cope with stress. Plus, brain scans of regularly massaged high-risk infants show more intricately developed neural pathways, which are critical to surviving and learning.

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However, Porter’s landmark study, “Drug-Abusing Mothers: Infant Massage Parenting Enhancement,” goes one step further: It is the first to correlate the benefits of IM therapy as a technique for drug intervention on both mother and child. The study’s primary goal is to develop an effective intervention that blends IM techniques into a systematic Planned Enhancement Parenting (PEP) program. This approach is designed to not only assist recovering SAMs with the caretaking and nurturing of their infants but also to decrease their risk for drug relapses, parental stress and depression.

“Interventions that build upon the natural components of early mother-infant interactions are critical to reversing the adverse effects of perinatal drug use for the children and breaking the cycle of addiction for the mothers,” Porter explains.

The research, which will be conducted through the university, was launched in September 2003 and will run through August 2007. The study will recruit up to 270 SAMs with babies ranging in age from one to 12 months. The mother/baby pairs will be divided into three groups: one that uses the combined IM/PEP method, one using only PEP methods and one control group.

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