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Text messages for parents actually help keep newborns safer, study finds

Modern moms know smartphones are portals to all kinds of parenting advice, but in the earliest days, that’s kind of the problem. When you come home from the hospital, Googling your questions can net a nearly infinite number of sometimes contradictory answers that are often more anecdotal than expert. Wouldn’t it be nice if the real experts just texted us?


Well, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association experimented with that very concept—and the results proved that when moms get informative texts at critical times, babies benefit.

Researchers at the Yale, the University of Virginia and Boston University looked at using text- and email-based educational interventions to deliver information on safe sleep practices and breastfeeding to new parents. They also tested a complimentary program where nurses educated parents before they left the hospital.

The findings indicate that having nurses teach parents about safe sleep practices before they left the hospital didn’t make parents any more likely to actually adhere to those suggestions. However, parents did follow the best safety practices with newborns upon going home when they received follow-up videos and information.

“A lot of parents can be overwhelmed when caring for a new baby, partly because they are not sure what to do or get different advice from different people,” Fern Hauck of the UVA School of Medicine, said in a media release. “We think that the videos and support that we provided in the texts and emails helped to give parents the information that they needed when they needed it and also addressed common concerns many parents have.”

The moms got the messages for two months postpartum at times when they were most likely to have questions about safe sleep and nursing.

“For instance, many parents worry about their baby choking when they’re on the back. Therefore, we sent them a video showing them that this is not true,” said Rachel Moon, of the UVA School of Medicine, explained in the media release.

For the first 11 days, the moms got a text every day. As they got the hang of parenting a newborn, the frequency of texts dropped to one every three or four days.

About 1,200 new moms from 16 U.S. hospitals benefited from the text and email campaign. And while researchers aren’t sure such a program could feasibly be rolled out on a more widespread basis, they’d like to try.

“We’re hoping to expand this study to larger groups of mothers, particularly those who are higher risk, to better understand what types of messages work the best, and what the best timing is for these messages,” says Hauck.

We’ll have to wait and see if one day all moms can benefit from this kind of postpartum text education. In the meantime, the researchers suggest new parents pay close attention to those low-tech lessons from the maternity ward nurses: Their advice really does work as long as sleep-deprived parents can remember it after going home from the hospital.

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