Soon-to-be mothers can now use computer tablets and other mobile devices to learn about prenatal nutrition and exercise, as well as warning signs signaling possible problems during pregnancy.
South Jersey health system Virtua launched the prenatal education program in February, garnering praise from state officials and healthcare advocates, who cited the program as a potential model for reaching women who might not be able to attend traditional prenatal classes because of work schedules or childcare demands.
The initial goals are to reach 500 pregnant women who are uninsured, underinsured or enrolled in Medicaid, increasing the number of visits they make to their doctors, reducing premature deliveries, and increasing the rate of women who breastfeed exclusively.
The Virtua Center for Women in Lumberton has seen the number of pregnant women participating in prenatal education rise from less than 1 percent to 72 percent who have registered for the tablet-based program.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to move from the traditional classroom for prenatal education, to get these women in a mode they are used to using,” said Kelly Nierstedt, Virtua assistant vice president for women’s and children’s health. “This generation of child-bearing women grew up with computers and smartphone technology, so they want information quick and they want it convenient.”
The program offers a lesson for each trimester of the pregnancy, with the last lesson covering the post-birth healthcare of both the mother and baby, including post-partum depression and the importance of skin-to-skin contact with the baby. Other lessons, which include both text and short videos, deal with anatomy, pregnancy discomforts, nutrition and healthy living, warning signs, body mechanics, and exercises.
Colorado-based InJoy, a company that specializes in prenatal education products, developed the program.
While the tablets are available at the Lumberton center, once women participate in the program they’re able to access the lessons on their cellphones.
Virtua health policy and programs director Suzanne Ghee said she was impressed with the format of the lessons.
“The tablet learning (program) has breastfeeding education, it has nutrition, it has postpartum care, pre-eclampsia, all of these things that women really need to be mindful of to have a healthy delivery,” said Ghee, who is due to have a baby in 12 weeks. “Typically when you go to an ob/gyn’s office they give you a folder, with a hundred pamphlets of everything you need to know, and it’s completely overwhelming.”
The program was praised on Tuesday by state Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd, who sat down with two pregnant women to work through a lesson at an event promoting prenatal education at the center.
One of the women, 18-year-old Amanda Gingery of Pemberton, said she liked the format of the lessons. While she was familiar with the exercise information in the lesson, she was surprised by other content.
“I didn’t know that you couldn’t eat certain foods,” Gingery said.
It also drew praise from Betsy Ryan, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association.
Ryan said could reinforce the strides that have been made statewide in reducing early elective deliveries.
A separate Virtua-based program funded by March of Dimes is focusing on reducing premature births by bringing together groups of eight to 10 women to discuss their pregnancies and share information.
“It’s information that’s going to be reinforced by this tablet learning,” said Nierstedt. “In some cases, they may see that information before they get to their (group) sessions, and they’ll have an education foundation from which they can ask questions.”
Virtua President and CEO Rich Miller said the tablets fit into a broader trend of focusing on health and wellness of patients outside of hospitals.
The Haines Family Foundation funds the program. Holly Haines of the foundation said the program combined two of the organization’s interests – Burlington County and education.
“The Center for Women really struck home for me,” Haines said. “We’ve done support pieces at Burlington County College to help single women get education, and we though this was a good fit. Education is very important — I think it’s one way we can help families move up and out of their circumstances.”