Preparing During a Pandemic: Online Programs Help Expectant Mothers Get Ready for Childbirth
// By Althea Fung //
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Not long after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 hit the United States, hospitals began to cancel on-site programs and events, particularly those for at-risk populations. Expectant mothers are among the group of people considered to be vulnerable to the coronavirus because their immune system is compromised while they’re pregnant. According to the CDC: “Pregnant women experience immunologic and physiologic changes which might make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19.”
With on-site childbirth classes (Lamaze) canceled, many hospitals have turned to online alternatives to help moms-to-be prepare for delivery of their new babies.
InJoy Health Education, a Colorado-based maternal-child health education company, is one solution helping healthcare organizations fill the void with its suite of online classes for expectant parents. Serving more than 15,000 institutions around the country, InJoy produces a variety of videos and other educational materials covering the spectrum of maternity care.
“InJoy started as a video content producer over 30 years ago for everything childbirth-related, and now includes videos in a variety of teaching formats,” says Debbie Young, customer relations manager at InJoy. “In the past five years or so, we’ve offered online learning for parents. We offer all of our curriculum titles — pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, newborn care, fatherhood, multiples, and safety — for parents to take online through their hospital.”
Young also teaches expectant parents at a hospital, but her in-person classes were recently suspended due to COVID-19. “I’ve been a childbirth educator for 33 years,” she says. “We had been thinking about purchasing the classes before [COVID-19], but when this happened, we decided to pull the trigger,” she says. The hospital signed up for the online breastfeeding and childbirth class for expectant mothers.
The videos are regularly updated to ensure they are medically accurate and use real people, not models — pregnant women, birthing women, and families — and animations to demonstrate techniques. The videos are accompanied by quizzes, interactive exercises, a parent toolkit, and a downloadable glossary of terms for users. With the optional “Ask an Educator” feature, users can also submit questions that are forwarded to a designated contact from the referring health system.
With online classes, users can learn at their own pace — binge-watching or breaking it up over several weeks. “The ‘Understanding Birth’ eClass is broken into eight chapters. Parents can go front to back in six hours or watch it over 12 weeks. Or mom and dad can just choose to watch the parts that are most relevant to them,” Young says.
Hospitals can buy as few as 10 seats to distribute for users. Those seats give users access to the eClass for up to 270 days (about 39 weeks). Some hospitals charge for the classes to create revenue for their organization, while others offer them for free.
“If you look at statistics, about 25 percent of women take advantage of maternal-child health education on-site classes during or after their pregnancy. That means 75 percent of people are maybe learning from Dr. Google or somebody else,” says Young. “What we do know is you’re not always getting accurate information. Since all of our materials are evidence-based, hospitals can be assured that their patients are getting accurate information to use during birth, breastfeeding, and beyond.”
She adds, “Many hospitals already had these classes before COVID, and now they’re reaching out to add on new eClass titles or more seats. Because it’s such an easy program to work with, once the paperwork is completed, it can be up on the customer’s site within a week.”
Though the videos and materials are created and maintained by InJoy, the eClass can be branded with the hospital or health system’s logos and iconography.
“That hospital’s name will appear on every page. We also have a section called ‘Services & Information’ that has information about the hospital. Lots of hospitals like that because if you pick up a book in the store, it doesn’t say anything about that hospital, but they’re delivering at that hospital. The ability to have branded information, important links, and information adds a personal touch,” she says.
Most of the classes are offered in English and Spanish.
“If you look at statistics, about 25 percent of women take advantage of maternal-child health education on-site classes during or after their pregnancy. That means 75 percent of people are maybe learning from Dr. Google or somebody else.”
In addition to online programs, InJoy offers books with apps, video programs on USB and DVD, customizable PowerPoints for in-person presentations, and web apps for parents. Because InJoy Health Education is a service provider for healthcare organizations, they are able to ship educational materials to hospitals during state-mandated quarantines.
To help healthcare providers, InJoy also provides professional education materials, free webinars, and a podcast called InCast. “We just did a webinar to help educators understand how to do virtual teaching, and we’ll be releasing several podcast episodes over the next few weeks about what’s happening in COVID. We do these to help keep customers current,” Young says.
InJoy also offers InCommunity, an online community for professionals that includes a blog, message board, and other relevant resource materials.
Delivery at Home or in the Hospital?
As if pregnancy and childbirth were not stressful enough, the coronavirus pandemic has added new complexities that expectant women must navigate. One frequently asked question is whether women should opt for home delivery to minimize risk of infection for themselves and their babies. In a New York Times article, Dr. Christina Han, MD, an associate professor and director of the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles, said: “Essentially what we are telling people is to stick with the plan you had before COVID-19. If you researched your options, and home birth is right for you, do that. If you had planned for a hospital birth, continue on that path, taking precautions.”
Althea A. Fung is a digital content strategist and healthcare journalist. She is a senior editor at NewYork-Presbyterian.
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