Item of Interest: NIH selects next round of winners in the Connecting the Community for Maternal Health Challenge

Prizes awarded for promising maternal health research proposals

Illustrated silhouettes of three pregnant people. Connecting the Community for Maternal Health Challenge. Logo of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Credit: NICHD

The National Institutes of Health has announced the next round of winners of its Connecting the Community for Maternal Health Challenge—a $3 million prize competition to encourage community-based and advocacy organizations in the United States to develop the infrastructure and capabilities necessary to conduct maternal health research.

Rates of pregnancy-related complications and deaths in the United States are high, and the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in these maternal health outcomes are stark. Community engagement in research is essential to developing effective strategies to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality and to ensure that the specific priorities of diverse and disproportionately affected populations are addressed. The Connecting the Community for Maternal Health challenge incentivizes nonprofit organizations to develop the capabilities, infrastructure, and experience to conduct research projects that seek to improve maternal health outcomes in their communities.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is sponsoring the challenge as part of NIH’s Implementing a Maternal health and PRegnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone (IMPROVE) Initiative. HeroX, in partnership with FedTech, is supporting the design, implementation, and management of the challenge on behalf of NIH through a multi-award contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In the first phase of the challenge, organizations participated in online training to orient them to the research process and submitted one-page summaries introducing themselves and their maternal health research idea. Submissions were judged by an expert panel, and 15 winners were announced in January 2023. Each received a $10,000 prize and an invitation to participate in the second phase, in which organizations received further training and mentoring to develop a comprehensive research proposal including the goals of the research, the need for the project, and a project plan.

The nine organizations selected as winners of the Proposal Phase have each earned an additional $150,000 prize and an invitation to participate in the Research Phase. During this final challenge phase, organizations will have approximately one year to implement their project plans, conduct the proposed research, and report results. They will continue to be mentored and will participate in webinars to receive guidance on building and sustaining their research activities and to hear from different subject matter experts on topics related to maternal health. Final winners are expected to be announced in September 2024.

Proposal Phase winners are listed in alphabetical order. (Please note that the following summaries have been adapted from submission packages.)

  • The Abundance Project, Colorado 
    Postpartum Doula Care Reduces BIPOC Mothers’ Hypertension, Depression, and Anxiety
    This project will evaluate the impact of postpartum doula care on reducing hypertension and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) postpartum mothers. The team also will assess the feasibility and acceptability of postpartum doula care. This study may help identify an evidence-based intervention to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality among BIPOC mothers who experience hypertension and symptoms of PMADs.
  • AHIMA Foundation Team, Illinois 
    Maternal Health Literacy for Nutrition Care Equity
    This project seeks to develop a health-literacy-building intervention to provide pregnant people at risk for gestational diabetes with equitable access to medical nutrition therapy. The team will pilot this intervention in partnership with a clinic serving pregnant Medicaid patients in preparation for a larger trial. This work contributes to health equity by promoting adequate nutrition during pregnancy, which may reduce the rate of gestational diabetes.
  • Atlanta Birth Center, Georgia
    Increasing Resiliency in the Perinatal Period
    The team will assess the impact of a prenatal community resilience model (CRM) intervention on depression, well-being, and resiliency among a predominantly Black population of pregnant people at a community-based birth center. They will compare pregnancy conditions and outcomes between patients receiving the CRM intervention and a historical comparison group. They also will evaluate whether social determinants of health affect impact the effects of the CRM intervention on depression, domestic violence, well-being, and resiliency. This study may provide a sustainable and cost-effective way to improve the overall well-being and resilience of pregnant people, thus reducing maternal morbidity and mortality.
  • Buffalo Prenatal Perinatal Network, Inc., New York 
    Survivor Moms’ Companion: A Perinatal Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Program
    This project will evaluate the Survivor Moms’ Companion (SMC) designed to address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among pregnant women in low-resource settings. SMC provides information about the negative effects of PTSD during the perinatal period, incorporates skill building for managing traumatic reactions, and provides emotional support through discussion sessions. The study will examine the feasibility of SMC, evaluate whether it can reduce PTSD symptoms, and assess its acceptability. This work may help advance treatment options for perinatal PTSD and disrupt cycles of abuse and psychiatric vulnerability.
  • Central Jersey Family Health Consortium, New Jersey
    Can It Happen to Me? Developing a Maternal Morbidity Risk Prediction Tool
    This project seeks to develop a data-driven tool to identify maternal risk factors and pregnancy outcomes. The study will include all pregnant people on Medicaid in New Jersey who had a live birth or fetal death between 2017 and 2021. The researchers will determine the rates of severe maternal morbidity in New Jersey by race and ethnicity and investigate the influences of individual and community factors on severe maternal morbidity and mortality. The team will develop and validate a pre-pregnancy maternal morbidity risk algorithm to stratify people by levels of risk based on the complex medical conditions that can impact health during and after pregnancy. This study may aid development of specific interventions for populations at higher risk.
  • Doula CO-OP of Reno, Nevada
    Culturally Congruent Doula Care: The Missing Lens into Maternal Mental Health
    This project will assess the impact of culturally congruent doula services on maternal satisfaction in childbirth and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders among Nevada Medicaid birthing participants. The team will train doula participants on Medicaid provider enrollment and study procedures. This work may impact the overall racial and ethnic diversity of community doulas and lead to more accurate representation of the families they serve, which could help reduce disparities in maternal mental health.
  • HealthConnect One, Illinois
    Leveraging Community-Rooted Peer Support to Improve Maternal Mental Health
    Mental health first aid (MHFA) trains laypeople to respond to mental health issues in their communities. This project will examine the impact of community-based doula MHFA training on mothers’ initiation of mental health treatment and maternal functioning, as well as mothers’ perceptions of mental health issues, beliefs about treatment, and awareness of services. The team also will evaluate implementation of MHFA training for sustainability and scaling-up. This work may help reduce perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in communities where stigma and poor access to mental health care perpetuate maternal morbidity.
  • Nurturely, Oregon
    Carrying for the Culture: An Infant Carrying Intervention for Health Equity
    This project proposes to test the effect of an infant carrying intervention on lactation and postpartum depression among Black parents. The team will use a train-the-trainer model to teach home visitors on how to implement a carrier intervention and conduct a pilot study to assess the effectiveness of the intervention. This work has the potential to improve lactation and perinatal mental health in a population that faces high barriers to perinatal health equity.
  • Postpartum Support International, Iowa
    The IMAGINE Project (Iowa MAternal Group INitiativE): Optimizing Mental Health
    This project seeks to improve perinatal mental health in Iowa by developing a state-wide virtual peer support group for pregnant and postpartum birthing persons, with a focus on rural communities. The specific aims are to assess changes in participants’ mood, their perceived support, and their knowledge of perinatal mental health issues and available treatment options. By addressing gaps in knowledge, this work may help improve maternal mental health in rural areas.
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