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UBC team designs Canada’s first text service for education on parenting

A UBC team of researchers has designed the first text-based parental education service in Canada. Getty Images

A team of researchers at the University of British Columbia say they’ve invented Canada’s first educational text messaging service for new parents.

‘SmartParent’ is a free service that sends registered new parents three texts a week with evidence-based information and guidance that matches the age of their infant.

Dr. Patricia Janssen, the program’s founder, said the texting option has an edge over mobile apps, as it’s more user-friendly, reliable and accessible to those without reliable internet or data plans.

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“When people receive text messages that just land on your phone, they don’t have to look for anything,” explained Janssen, a professor at the UBC Faculty of Medicine.

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“On an app, usually you need to scroll through different pages, you may or may not find a topic that you want, and you may not find it at the right time.”

Each text includes a link to additional online resources, some of which are catered to B.C. residents, and direct them to local programs and services. The weekly messages will provide information on common parental questions about infant growth, feeding, sleep and more.

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SmartParent is an evolution of SmartMom, Janssen added, a similar UBC-led text service that offers prenatal information to new mothers, timed with the stages of their gestation.

“There is a lot of information out there, but I think receiving information that you really do need to know at a slow, steady pace when it’s pertinent to you, is helpful,” said Kelsey Martin, a new mom in Vancouver.

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Martin, a midwife, used the SmartMom program before her first child was born. She said she learned things about prenatal care that even she didn’t know, and said she’ll sign up for SmartParent too.

“As a midwife, I only care for babies up until six weeks, so I’m in a completely new territory. I actually feel it would be more helpful now than before.”

The province’s regional health authorities are funding the text message service, whose content is developed by an advisory team that includes representatives of those authorities as well as the First Nations Health Authority, Optimal Birth BC, the provincial health department, and more.

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Janssen said she hopes the service is useful to all new parents, especially those who may otherwise struggle to access postnatal care and resources.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated access to care, says a UBC press statement on SmartParent, as do language, cultural, financial, and transportation-related barriers.

The phone numbers of parents who sign up for SmartParent will be protected, said Janssen.

Anyone who would like to be part of the program can text ‘smartparent’ to 12424, or sign up on the program’s website.

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