Parenting fragile newborns - there's an app for that

Parenting fragile newborns - there's an app for that

You are a young, poor mother whose parents were harsh and critical. You had a baby 10 weeks ago who weighed just three pounds. She has been in a neonatal intensive care unit where she has been cared for by medical professionals 24/7. Now she is ready to go home—and you panic.

Fortunately, you and your fragile baby are supported by a parenting program that you can follow on an iPhone® app called Baby Net developed by the University of Kansas and the Oregon Research Institute.

Baby Net incorporates a proven, parenting program called PALS (Play and Learning Strategies) that strengthens a mother’s ability to care for her own emotional health so that she in turn can nurture her baby’s cognitive and social-emotional development, said Kathleen Baggett, associate research professor.

Baggett says that although very low birth weight infants (less than three pounds, three ounces) are born to families at all income levels, poverty is one of the factors that increases the risk.

“Families living in very high-stress conditions have more very low birth infants,” she said. “These babies’ signals are more difficult to read and they develop more slowly— that is challenging for any parent.”

Although not all very low birth weight babies face poor outcomes, the likelihood of problems with cognitive, language and social development persist into adulthood without e ective intervention.

While low birth weight and prematurity are the most prevalent risk factor for babies born in the U.S., budgets for home visiting programs have been slashed. So a priority of the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Research Program is to fund innovative parenting interventions like Baby Net.

“Since we know that young women use smart phones to access the Internet, that is primarily how we share the intervention with them,” said Baggett.

The Baby Net app allows a mother to record videos of herself with her baby using what she has learned after each of 10 sessions. The videos are streamed and the mothers and their parenting coaches watch and discuss them together.

“Many young women grew up hearing negative and derogatory things about themselves from their parents and have no template for doing things differently,” said Baggett. “We meet parents where they are and build on their strengths.”