Leaving a hospital with a child in a carseat can be an overwhelming moment for many parents. And with life going online and become more isolating amid the COVID-19 pandemic, University of B.C. professor Patricia Janssen saw an opportunity.
Janssen, who is a professor at UBC’s School of Public Health, was behind the development of the SmartMom program, which sends you evidence-based text messages timed with an individual’s pregnancy. Attending prenatal education classes, she noted, helps women avoid issues like gestational diabetes and makes them more likely to have an overall healthy pregnancy.
The issue, however, was that many women find it hard to attend those classes, whether it be due to time constraints, more remote locations or over the past 20 months, the pandemic. And similar constraints apply once the baby is born, with very few educational programs available to new parents.
“S0 we thought that texting was a way to deliver that information as well, since 99 per cent of people in Canada do have access to cell phones and cell coverage,” Janssen said.
That’s where SmartParent comes in. The program sends parents three text messages per week. The messages prompt the parents to seek more information via a link to a reputable source.
And the topics vary, Janssen said, from information about routine vaccinations to how to avert preventable injuries or simply how to get a baby to sleep more.
It’s a program that’s more necessary than ever today, with more and more people turning to online to get the socializing and information that they might otherwise have gotten in person.
“One of the sources of information that parents (otherwise) go to are other parents who are online, like blogs, and these blogs and websites and forums are not monitored by everyone,” Janssen said.
“So someone can say something and the rest of the group listens, and may take up that behaviour. But nobody actually knows if that’s the correct information.”
That’s what separates SmartParent. The information sent out by the program is advised by the health ministry, regional health authorities and the First Nations Health Authority.
“Our messages are updated at regular intervals, they’re current,” Janssen said. “They’re also being reviewed and endorsed by the Canadian Paediatric Society… so caregivers and physicians feel reassured that people are getting the right information.”
But while the information sent by text is a good start, Janssen said that it doesn’t replace a doctor.
“Our messages direct people as to when they should be going to doctors, we give them a lot of information about the kinds of questions they should be asking their doctors.”
Parents can sign up for SmartParent by texting the word “smartparent” to 12424 or by signing up at www.smartparentcanada.ca. To sign up for SmartMom, text “smartmom” to 12323 or visit www.smartmomcanada.ca.