Developing a virtual antenatal education offer during COVID-19

A Better Start

Dr. Michelle Everitt, Registrar in Public Health, describes how antenatal education is going ahead despite the restrictions brought on by the pandemic.

Dr. Michelle Everitt

When the COVID-19 lockdown began it was inevitable that antenatal programmes, along with so many other support services, would have to adapt.

Normally across the Bradford district there are two universally available antenatal classes – those offered by the local maternity service and also the ‘Welcome to the World’ course which is delivered through Family Hubs (formerly known as Children’s Centres).

Some services for families quickly found ways to continue, albeit with significant changes, such as via email, phone or video call. Support was quickly made available for vulnerable families during the antenatal period, this included statutory services such as health visiting or social services. For our Better Start Bradford population the ‘Baby Steps’ programme was continuing to recruit vulnerable families and deliver the programme virtually. However, a clear gap was emerging around universal antenatal education as there was no capacity to deliver the usual antenatal provision remotely. At Better Start Bradford we recognised there was a need for free virtual antenatal support and education.

When reflecting on how to best meet this identified need we considered the current climate and the demands this was placing on many families. We recognised that requiring pregnant women to commit to attending a course of sessions was unrealistic. We decided to develop four live sessions to be repeated frequently. Participants would be encouraged to access these when convenient, with no obligation to attend all four in a row, making this different to pre-existing antenatal offers.

Within the Better Start Bradford team we have a great wealth of experience and skill including midwives and practitioners with experience of running antenatal education sessions. A small group developed the virtual sessions, prepared promotional material, and worked with partner organisations including maternity services to help shape the programme. Within a few weeks of first identifying the need we held our first pilot session. This was delivered via Zoom by a midwife and an early years practitioner from within the Better Start Bradford team.

Three of these sessions have now been held (as of 14 May 2020) with an increasing number of women attending each session – we had 39 participants sign up and attend the three sessions (30 individual women). Once the fourth and final pilot session was delivered on 21 May, we intend to run two sessions a week going forward. This means the entire programme will be delivered once a fortnight. The sessions cover topics such as staying healthy during pregnancy, comfort measures during labour, developing a good attachment during pregnancy and immediately post birth, feeding and safe sleeping.

Participants were sent a survey after each pilot session to aid our development process. The feedback showed that Zoom worked well as a delivery medium and all participants who provided feedback felt that the sessions either met or exceeded their expectations. We have received some great feedback including: “I would just like to say how very, very helpful and informative the session is.” “Really excited about next week’s feeding topic.” “Even my partner was impressed.”

It is early days for our Virtual Antenatal Offer, and we are aware that we still have some issues to address, for example, low digital literacy as a barrier to accessing the sessions. We feel that this offer has real potential and demonstrates that innovation can come out of adversity.

Dr. Michelle Everitt is a Registrar in Public Health in Bradford

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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