Texting service helps parents overcome barriers to find evidence-based information

January 10, 2022   |   News, Blog

Being a new parent can be stressful and overwhelming, and while there’s an app for almost everything these days, it can be tricky finding reliable, evidence-based information online. Enter SmartParent, Canada’s first text messaging service for new parents launched by Dr. Patricia Janssen, faculty member at the Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity and School of Population and Public Health at UBC. SmartParent delivers up to three current, evidence-based educational messages per week. The goal is to guide parents through each week of their baby’s first year of life with information tailored to infant age and stage of development.


Factors such as education level, income, stigma and discrimination, and pandemic-related restrictions create barriers to accessing accurate postnatal resources, explained Dr. Janssen. “Sure, there are lots of apps and websites out there for new parents, but most don’t provide peer reviewed information. They also require users to search for information. And with the family physician shortage in BC, people don’t have primary caregivers for their children who they can go to with their questions.”


Where you live in the province complicates things further, Dr. Janssen added: “People living on in remote areas don’t always have internet or cellular access and are often the most isolated, cut off by roads, weather or geography. We wanted to develop something that didn’t require continuous internet access.” That’s why Dr. Janssen and her UBC research team developed SmartParent as a texting service—not an app. “We wanted to ensure broad accessibility so we could reach as many people as possible, particularly those who may have greater need.”


Created by maternal and child health experts, SmartParent delivers information on topics such as growth and development, feeding, safety and injury prevention, and social and language development. “This is information that new parents sorely need and are lacking,” said Dr. Janssen. “With SmartParent, they don’t have to go searching for it, they just sign up.” Text messages also feature topics geared to parents themselves, like post-partum depression and regaining fitness for birthing partners, and how to interact with your child and support your partner. Importantly, they link subscribers to trustworthy resources and services available online and in their own community.


“Often, parents just want to know what’s normal. Is their child’s growth on track? Is their language developing as it should? SmartParent is really about health promotion and supporting parents to nurture healthy growth and development in their child.” SmartParent was developed in collaboration with Optimal Birth BC, the BC Ministry of Health and BC Health Authorities, and in consultation with pregnant people and new parents, practicing nurses, doctors, midwives and experts in maternal and child health. It is endorsed by the Canadian Paediatric Society.


As SmartParent rolls out, Dr. Janssen said it will be evaluated and continue to evolve. Part of that evolution includes a collaboration with Interior Health Authority and a Syilx language rejuvenation project. “We are working with elders, who have chosen messages to be sent out, infused with their language and accompanied by stories and songs to teach young parents their language and culture and how it relates to parenting.” Dr. Janssen has also been funded to create a teen parent texting program in Northern BC. “Our background research showed that teen parents are isolated through poor socioeconomic status, lower levels of education and other risk factors around parenting. We know that we need a new approach to reach them; they don’t want the same content, and they want it delivered differently.”


For more information on SmartParent, or to sign up, visit SmartParentCanada.