Mobile app launched by midwives to help young mums have healthy pregnancies

Young mothers who may be missing out on vital health information are to be supported by a new smartphone app that guides them through pregnancy and the early stages of parenthood.

The Baby Buddy app is free to use by parents of all ages, but is particularly targeted at younger parents including teenage mums, who may not be using antenatal services early or fully enough, attending health appointments or accessing trusted information.

The app is designed to help parents who may be missing out on gaining information and confidence, as well as support their maternal mental health and wellbeing, so they can give their babies the best start.

The Baby Buddy app allows users to create an avatar or buddy who accompanies them on their journey during the first crucial stages of parenthood – from pregnancy through to the first six months of a baby’s life.

This virtual Buddy, or Digital Best Friend “DBF”, gives personalised information, not just relevant to the stage of pregnancy or the age of the baby, but also mentioning, by name, the mother, her baby and (if the user has one) also her partner.

Baby Buddy is highly interactive. As well as sending regular messages with timely reminders, daily alerts and engaging video clips, it also enables the user to set goals, manage health appointments and find local groups and services via a map.

Funded by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund of GBP866,022 and championed by TV’s “Dr Ranj” and TV presenter and athlete Charlie Webster, the app has been developed by Best Beginnings, a child health charity which aims to end child health inequalities in the UK by helping parents give their babies the best possible start in life.

Baby Buddy has been endorsed by the Department of Health, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, the Institute of Health Visiting and the the Faculty of Public Health

CEO of Best Beginnings Alison Baum said: “Research tells us that young mothers are more at risk of premature delivery and of having poor mental health. Their children are more likely to have health problems and language delay which impacts on their school readiness and ultimately their life chances.”

“At Best Beginnings we are working to change this by giving parents access to information and support in a way that works for them, irrespective of social background. 16 – 24 year olds are among the highest users of smartphones, so it makes sense to deliver key messages and support in this way.”

“The Baby Buddy app is designed to increase the uptake of health services, encourage early and regular attendance at NHS appointments and provide the next generation of young parents with the knowledge, skills and confidence to maximise their children’s physical, social and emotional development.”

“There are shocking inequalities that exist in child health here in the UK. For example, a baby born in Bradford is six times more likely to die in infancy than a baby born in Tunbridge Wells. This is unacceptable. Our work aims to close this gap and give all babies the healthiest possible start in life.”

Dan Poulter MP, Health Minister said: “I believe this app has real value in supporting parents to give their babies the best start in life. I am pleased to see how midwifery and health visiting teams across the country are using the Baby Buddy app with parents to help ‘make every contact count.'”

Hundreds of young parents, midwives, health visitors, speech and language therapists, paediatricians, and other doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and others have helped develop Baby Buddy over the last two years. Now the app is “live”, users of the app are encouraged to complete in-app questionnaires which will help make future versions of the app even better.

Users can install the app, which soft launched in August, using one of the following links:
Android phone http://bit.ly/1sBrquz
iPhone http://bit.ly/1nwkc4J

How the app works

1. A tailored buddy – there are well over a million different avatar Buddies a user can create, each with their unique combination of body shape, skin tone, eye shape and colour, nose, lip shape and colour, outfit and hairstyle and also, if the user chooses, virtual earrings, necklace and sunglasses. The Buddy can be created from the user’s imagination or to look like a big sister, best friend or a favourite celebrity e.g.: Princess Kate or Adele. After the user of the app gives birth she can choose to create a virtual baby for her virtual Buddy.

2. Personalised content – Many pregnancy or parenting apps give daily information based on the mother’s pregnancy stage or the baby’s age. No other app straddles pregnancy and birth with content which covers the emotional as well as the physical, which mentions the mother, baby and partner by name which is different content whether or not the mother has a partner and/or is or isn’t breastfeeding. All of this has been endorsed by many key maternal and child health organisations. This means the user gets the right information at the right time.

3. You can do it! – a tracker for the parents’ personal goals and achievements, which can be tweeted and shared. Digital rewards keep the user motivated.

4. Ask me – the user can type in questions and the Baby Buddy app will give answers with expert information.

5. Appointments – a handy reminder of the dates, times, place and what the user needs to take with them for check-ups.

6. Remember to ask – a reminder list of questions to ask at health appointments.

7. Videos – there are a growing range of clips to support the physical and emotional aspects of pregnancy and parenting.

8. What does it mean? – a place where users can find the meaning of words.

9. Edit me – where users can change how their Buddy looks and give her new outfits and accessories.

10. Tell us what you think – where users can give us their feedback so that we can make the app even better for them and thousands of other mums.

What the experts and supporters say:

Dan Poulter MP, Health Minister said: “I believe this app has real value in supporting parents to give their babies the best start in life. I am pleased to see how midwifery and health visiting teams across the country are using the Baby Buddy app with parents to help ‘make every contact count.'”

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, former President of the UK Faculty of Public Health and Chair of the Royal Society for Public Health and Chair of Trustees, Best Beginnings said: “As someone who has worked in public health for more than 40 years I’ve seen many public health interventions come and go, but I really feel that Baby Buddy is going to have an enormous impact. The app is friendly, reassuring and supportive as well as being packed with practical information for expectant and new mothers, including many fantastic video clips. Importantly the content has been approved by a wide range of experts, so that people can really trust it. It is brilliant to see how midwives and health-visitors across the country are really embracing Baby Buddy and using it with the mothers they support. Baby Buddy is an innovative, fun and informative way for mothers and mothers-to be to look after themselves and give their babies’ the best start.”

Sheena Byrom OBE, Midwife and Trustee of the Iolanthe Midwifery Trust said: “Baby Buddy app is the perfect innovation for pregnant and new mothers. It offers instantly available non-biased, evidence based information to help mothers during pregnancy, labour, and the crucial time when getting to know their new baby! The app maximises potential for increasing physical and psychological health of both mother and baby through sensitively pitched tailored tips and suggestions, and the ability for the user to save questions to ask health professionals at a later date. The possibilities are endless-and because Baby Buddy app uses avatars that are superbly interactive, it is attractive to young mothers who sometimes find information inaccessible. Added to this, because the app is aimed at mothers and health professionals, it really encourages interaction between mothers and their health professionals.”

Charlie Webster, Broadcaster, Athlete and Best Beginnings’ Ambassador said: “Supporting pregnant women and new mothers is an important way to give babies the very best start in life, which is why I am proud to be supporting Best Beginnings and Baby Buddy app. I am very lucky to have a mum who had me in her teenage years, who despite challenges, did all she could to give me a start which all individuals deserve, no matter where they are from. I have worked with many young girls and boys over the years and know that a positive and healthy start in life is key to establishing their identity, self-belief and confidence. With Baby Buddy we can make a difference where it’s really needed. We will improve the outcomes for those children who need it the most, because the start of life is such a key time.”

Cathy Warwick CBE, CEO of the Royal College of Midwives said: “With so much information about pregnancy, childbirth and looking after a new baby on the internet today, it can feel daunting and sometimes overwhelming for some pregnant women and new mothers, who may not know where to start or find reliable information. The new Baby Buddy phone app has the potential to be a “game-changer” because it provides evidence-based information in an engaging bite-size format and supports women’s emotional as well as physical transition to parenthood. Crucially the app is designed to help women get the most out of their appointments and interactions with midwives and other health professionals. The Royal College of Midwives is delighted to endorse the apps– once again Best Beginnings has developed something truly innovative to benefit parents.”

Dr. Ranj Singh, NHS Doctor and Medical Presenter (CBeebies Get Well Soon, ITV This Morning, BBC Watchdog, Channel 5 News) said: “There are lots of great resources and projects for parents out there, but Baby Buddy is light years ahead. From the start I’ve been amazed at how much it can do and the amount of excellent information it has. Also, I’m equally impressed with how dedicated the team behind it is and how seriously it’s all being taken. It’s no surprise, then, that it has received approval from a number of professional organisations. This isn’t just any old app – it’s going to become a routine part of everyone’s care.”

Nat Sloane, Big Lottery Fund England Chair said: “Best Beginning’s new Baby Buddy app is a great example of how a simple but innovative use of technology can have a big impact in the lives of so many new families. This app puts credible, reliable information from trusted health experts literally at the user’s fingertips, empowering new mums and mums-to-be with the information, skills and confidence they need to give their baby the best possible start in life. The Big Lottery Fund is proud to support innovation that helps mums to make the best choices for themselves and their baby.”

Lynne Pacanowski, Director of Midwifery at St Thomas’ Hospital said: “It has been a pleasure to be involved with such a forward thinking development in maternity care for young people. The Baby Buddy app is an innovative way for us to support young people through pregnancy, empowering them to take control of their own care in a way that suits their lifestyles. We’re extremely grateful for the support from the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. We’ve had great feedback so far and I’m sure this app will continue to improve experiences for young people not only in our local areas of south London but nationally as well.”

Emily Denness, lead midwife for St Thomas’ teenage pregnancy team said: “We are suggesting the app to all our teenage mums-to-be. We’ve seen great results from some of our young girls that are using the app. Its features have helped them with so many different aspects of pregnancy. It has been great for breastfeeding, with practical information, but also during pregnancy to allow them to make an informed decision about feeding and their choices in pregnancy and birth. One of the most popular features we’ve noticed is the ‘tip of the day’, it makes important information easy to digest and is so accessible. The app allows girls to take control of their pregnancy helping them to make decisions and learn for themselves.”

Eileen Hayes, independent parenting consultant and Trustee of Best Beginnings said: “My entire working life has been devoted to trying to provide quality information and advice to parents and prospective parents through a wide variety of channels such as magazines, leaflets, websites, and TV and radio programmes. I think this new app from Best Beginnings, a small but powerful charity, will be a wonderfully innovative way of delivering important messages to parents at the right time, and in a really accessible manner, and it will reach the kind of parents who may be missed by many of the other outlets.”

Dr Damian Roland, Consultant and Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Paediatric Emergency Medicine said: “The Baby Buddy app gives parents the opportunity to access health and medical advice in a structured fashion at their fingertips. It’s a resource they can use as their child grows and hopefully will also promote the sharing of good practice between parents.”

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