UWE Bristol supports 'Baby Buddy'

Issue date: 19 November 2014

Official launch - Wednesday 19 November

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Smartphone ownership in the UK is increasing dramatically, with over 80 per cent of 16-24 year olds from lower socio-economic groups owning one. Now the parenting charity, Best Beginnings has created Baby Buddy, a new free mobile phone app aimed at the younger mother who according to research, is less likely than older parents to access maternity care early in pregnancy, to keep appointments and attend any form of antenatal education.

Funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Baby Buddy guides parents from conception through to the first six months of a baby's life using a unique “Buddy” avatar which parents create on their mobile phone. It's been devised with assistance from an advisory panel of experts from maternity and children's care pathways including UWE Bristol's Dr Toity Deave.

Endorsed by the Department of Health, the users' Buddy provides tailored health and wellbeing information, sends regular messages with timely reminders and video information, and enables the parent to set goals, manage health appointments and find local groups and resources using its geo-location functionality.

The app is friendly, engaging and packed with the most up to-date information and has been tested by hundreds of young parents, midwives, paediatricians, health visitors and doctors.

Baby Buddy is designed to:

· encourage young mothers to book early with their midwife and also reduce DNAs (missing of appointments) through the Baby Buddy's interactive calendar.

· help make “Every Contact Count” by providing parents with a place to store questions they may have for upcoming appointments in a “Remember to ask” list. The app also provides the opportunity for joint goal setting using the “You can do it” feature.

· increase the uptake of local services, for example by signposting users to local groups and NHS services using the geo-location feature of the app and also through the app's daily information and video prompts.

As well as the Department of Health, Baby Buddy is also endorsed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, the Institute of Health Visiting and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists with other endorsements expected before the official November launch.

Thanks to funding from the Guys and St Thomas' Charity, the Royal College of Midwives and Blackpool Council, the Baby Buddy app is being actively embedded into service provision in Southwark and Lambeth and across Blackpool and formative research on the usability and likability of the app with parents and professionals is underway.

In addition to these two evaluation sites, Best Beginnings is working with health and social care professionals in five other regions across England (Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Bradford, Lewisham and Leicester) to actively incorporate the Baby Buddy app into maternity and children's services. These embedding programmes are designed to ensure that Baby Buddy reaches the families who need it most and also helps to support appointments with professionals.

Dr Toity Deave, Associate Professor for Family and Child Health, based at UWE's Centre for Child and Adolescent Health, will lead this evaluation, coordinating research teams from the University of Coventry, University of Newcastle, University of Hertfordshire and Kings College.

She says, “We feel that this app should make a difference to both parents and midwives/health visitors, making reliable and evidence-based information more accessible and supporting advice that health professionals will offer new parents. We are really interested to see whether it does work, especially since it is being embedded into maternity services in some areas of the country, to help Baby Buddy reach the families who need it most and to support appointments with professionals.

“This is exciting for me because of a research study I led several years ago where we asked first-time mothers and fathers, antenatally and again postnatally, about their experience of their transition to parenthood. One of our main findings was that they wanted a DVD containing similar information, which is now available on this app.

“We were delighted to win the tender for this independent evaluation. We will be undertaking a prospective evaluation as well analysing the in-app data about how the app is being used. We will be using a quasi-experimental approach as well as asking mothers, partners and health professionals for their views on the app, to elicit the contribution the app makes to the woman-caregiver encounters and to what extent the embedding process enhances this. This will add context to the evaluation and help us to work out: if it works why it works and, if it doesn't, why it doesn't work.

“Our findings will feed into the further development of the app and, dependent on funding, the creation of one for dads and grandparents, which would be great news, since there is very little out there for them.”

Founder and CEO of Best Beginnings Alison Baum said, “We are serious in our mission to support families from all backgrounds to give their babies the best possible start. We've dived into the digital space because this is what families have told us they want. As they say “Apps is where it's at”, but this is no ordinary app.

“Through a huge amount of input from parents and professionals, and with a clear vision of what is possible, we've created something that has never been done before; Baby Buddy is unique in its combination of endorsed content which is personalised to the user, its friendly chatty style, its focus on the social and emotional as well as the physical, its practical and interactive features, and in the way it is being used nationally.

“The official launch of the Baby Buddy app is the beginning of a new and exciting phase for Best Beginnings. With more feedback from parents and professionals and with over sixty more films planned to go into the app in the coming months we will make Baby Buddy even better. With additional funding we will build on this concept creating bespoke versions for dads and grandparents and content up to the third birthday. I'm passionate about collaboration and Baby Buddy shows exactly why. Together we really can make a difference for future generations.”

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.”

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