Inspiration and technology: Alison Baum blending the two!

Alison Baum

Alison Baum CEO Best Beginnings

I have been observing Alison Baum’s phenomenal achievements for many years, and have been captivated by her passion, energy and charisma. Alison is the CEO of the charity Best Beginnings, and there’s more about the brilliant work the organisation does in this post. After becoming increasingly involved in Alison’s latest project, the Baby Buddy App I wanted to interview her, to find out a little more about the inspiration behind her successes. In particular, I wanted to know more about this app, and why she was driven to make it happen!

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Alison, Hi! Can you tell me what the Baby Buddy phone app is?

Baby Buddy is a personal baby expert that guides mums through their pregnancy and the first six months of their baby’s life. It has been designed to help mums give their baby the best start in life and support their health and wellbeing. The app is free to download, and it allows you to create your own personalised avatar (your “Buddy”) and has lots of lovely features, including useful “daily information”, some great videos, a cool goal setting function called “You can do it,” a “What does it mean” feature where you can find out what words means, and a very helpful “Appointments” feature. Baby Buddy focuses on empowering young mothers, as well as increasing their knowledge, improving confidence, enhancing bonding and attachment and reinforcing the importance of accessing health services.

What is the inspiration behind the creation of the app?

Our charity Best Beginnings is all about ending child health inequalities in the UK. This means giving every baby the best possible start in life. Our vision is a future in which all children in the UK enjoy excellent care from the very beginning. My own personal experience has been a major influence on what we are trying to achieve. My first son David was born with a cleft palate as well as breathing and feeding problems. My second son Joshua was also born with a cleft palate and developed viral meningitis at 8 days old. My nephew Joe has a condition called Tuberous Sclerosis, he has multiple and complex healthcare needs, including severe learning difficulties, autism and epilepsy. Sometimes things go wrong, and some health problems are unavoidable, and we all do what we can to make the best of a situation. But as I became more and more aware of the shocking child health inequalities that exist in the UK, I realised some things are avoidable. For example, it’s totally unacceptable that a baby born in Bradford is six times more likely to die in infancy than a baby born in Tunbridge Wells. For the most part these inequalities are avoidable and that is what I decided to focus my energies on. Best Beginnings was set up in 2006 and the Baby Buddy app is an important part of that vision as it is designed to support parents-to-be and new parents in the social, emotional and physical transition to parenthood, and in giving their baby the best start in life. Baby Buddy focuses particularly on engaging young parents, who based on the evidence, are more likely to find the transition to parenthood harder and their babies are more likely to have poorer health outcomes. We as a society have failed to give them information in a way that works for them. Young parents want to give their babies the best possible start and we’ve created this app as a way to help them do just that.

How is it different to all those other parenting apps on the market?

Some apps are offered at a cost but Baby Buddy is free to all. Another important thing is it contains content that can be trusted. Everything in the app has been approved and endorsed by organisations including the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Pregnancy or parenting apps give daily information based on the mother’s pregnancy stage or the baby’s age. No other app straddles pregnancy and birth with content which covers the emotional as well as the physical, which mentions the mother, baby and partner by name which is different content whether or not the mother has a partner and/or is or isn’t breastfeeding, all of which has been endorsed by many key maternal and child health organisations. This means the user gets the right information at the right time. We’ve had a huge amount of input from parents and professionals too. Through this, 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, friendly chatty style, its practical and interactive features, and in the ways it is being used. Baby Buddy has also been designed to be used as a tool by healthcare professionals to both support and complement their work. We have been working with local areas to actively embed the app into care pathways.

Is it easy to use?

Yes, installing the app on to your phone could not be easier and only takes a few minutes. Anyone can access it – mums or dads, health or social care professionals, peer supporters and other charity workers – as long as you have either an Android phone – in which case visit this, or an iPhone – in which case visit this link. Everyone who registers gets access to all the app’s features. We ask that people please register as who they really are not as who they are imagining being. We are (as an anonymised dataset) keeping track of who is using Baby Buddy, where in the country users are and (if they complete the in-app questionnaires at 7 and 8 weeks) what they think of it. For example, we are keen to see how many midwives, health-visitors, paediatricians, obstetricians, psychologists etc are using it in different parts of the country. So, tempting as it may be to go in as a 19 year old pregnant woman when you are an interested professional, please register with your real age and profession. Once you are registered you’ll end up having exactly the same experience as the 19 year old pregnant women you have in mind when testing the app. The in-app data will help us get the app ever better. We’ve only released the 1.0 version and this will be a multi-year project informed by in-app and site-based evaluations. Our web page has it all spelled out here. The app itself is very visual, and uses lots of images and video clips. Many mums who have been giving us feedback tell us how much fun it is to use the avatar, which can be customised. There are well over a million different avatar Buddies you can create, each with their unique combination of body shape, skin tone, eye shape and colour, nose, lip shape and colour, outfit and hairstyle, and if the user chooses, virtual earrings, necklace and sunglasses.

Why do mothers need an app when we have so much information on the web available?

Very few young parents with babies are far from their smart phones these days and it makes sense to deliver key messages and support to them in this way. Mums have been telling us that, frankly, they are overwhelmed by the amount of information out there and searching the web for an answer is a minefield when you don’t know if the source can be trusted or not. Baby Buddy has a fantastic Ask Me function that gives them answers to all their questions on pregnancy, birth and parenting, as well as a “what does it mean?” feature. But Baby Buddy does more than give information, it is also highly interactive. This means as well as sending regular messages with timely reminders, daily alerts and video advice, it also enables the parent to set goals, manage health appointments and find local groups and resources via a map. A phone app is a great way to reach out to younger mums, who as a group are among the highest users of smartphones. Younger mums may not always be accessing health services in the same way as older mums, so it provides a way to connect them to a resource that maintains regular contact and alerts.

When will it be ready to install on my phone?

Right now! Version 1.0 is available to install. Visit the web page now to install it. I would actively encourage everyone to download and use it. We are seeking feedback from parents and health and social care professionals ahead of the official launch in mid-November 2014 to make the app even better. When you install it you’ll be asked to give feedback in the app and you can also email us directly. We are particularly keen for multi-disciplinary healthcare professionals to understand its functionality and content, so they can recommend it to the families they support, and use it in appointments. When you register as a user, just choose the options that fit you best.  This way we can separate out feedback from parents and professionals. I really would be delighted to hear any suggestions anyone has for additional content for example new FAQs for the “Ask me” function via: hpapps@bestbeginnings.org.uk. Midwives may even want to rate it and write a review of it on Google Play or iTunes App Store. The more reviews there are for parents-to-be and new parents looking for help, the easier it is for them to decide if Baby Buddy is worth downloading. So if you’re readers, (after using the Baby Buddy app), want to take a few minutes to write a review that would be wonderful.

How are parents going to hear about the app?

Well, there are lots of ways and your readers can play a big part in this, if they wish!

1. Special posters and postcards are available to display in areas where pregnant and new mums visit, and they can be downloaded or ordered free of charge here!  Some areas are putting the leaflets in pregnancy booking appointment letters and other maternity services are working with us to develop ideas on integrating the app into local maternity and children’s care pathways.

2. We have a social media campaign building on Twitter using @babybuddyapp @BestBeginnings and @AlisonBaum and we are very keen for you to get involved. We are a growing ‘family’ and would love you to be part of it! See the video below…

3.  We are planning a press launch on November 19th 2014 – so please do join in the Twitter and Facebook chat, and let us know if you would like your local area to be part of the press launch. Email us at hpapps@bestbeginnings.org.uk

Is the app complete?

No not at all, we are very much at the beginning of a multi-year journey.

We have an abundance of helpful content in the app, but we are constantly looking for more Questions and Answers for the “Ask Me” function and I am always keen for suggestions, all of which have to be endorsed by our team of experts before inclusion. We are also in the process of making more than 100 new films to go into the app which will include everything from young mothers preparing simple healthy meals, to mums at antenatal classes talking about what they get out of them, films about creating wellbeing plans, creating birth plans, films about active labour, about baby communication, spotting a sick child and much much more. We are actively recruiting young pregnant women and young mothers from across the country who are happy to be filmed during their pregnancy and/or their baby’s first months. We are also keen to recruit and film mothers with older children who experienced mild, moderate or severe mental health problems to tell their story retrospectively, with the purpose of raising awareness, destigmatising and informing app users about mental health and wellbeing.  For more information please see the dedicated webpage on our website. We’d be delighted to hear from healthcare professionals working with young parents or from parents themselves.

In addition to new content coming on board, we are also adding in new features to Baby Buddy. Within the next few weeks three long-awaited features will go “live”:

Bump Around/Baby Around: this new feature helps users of the Baby Buddy app to find local services and classes based on their locality, using a map. The aim of this feature is to use technology to increase social capital by supporting more young mothers to attend classes and use local services.

Bump Book/Baby Book: this new feature allows users to keep their own private diary with photos, thoughts and reflections. Users can, if they choose, share individual daily entries with friends and family and their wider network). In creating this feature we have created a reflective space within the app to support mind-mindedness and the emotional transition to parenthood. Our aim, in the future, is to create a way for users to easily make a hard-copy version of their Bump or Baby Book if they choose.

Text to voice: that users will be able to tap a button and their Buddy will speak her message to them

Here is a special message from me about how you can play a key role in this project and make a difference to babies’ lives in the UK. Thank you!

Here is a special message from me about how you can play a key role in this project and make a difference to babies’ lives in the UK. http://vimeo.com/101627566 Together we can make a difference for future generations. Thank you! PS: If you want to find out more about the dad’s app I mention in my special message click here.

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Breastfeeding and Baby Friendly Initiative: a success story

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I remember it well. Working as a midwife and supporting women to breastfeed wasn’t always plain sailing. As I became more confident and skilful, women were becoming more confused due to conflicting advice. I am sure this is still the case in many areas, but in East Lancashire something happened that influenced things for the better. UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative was introduced more than 17 years ago at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust in NW England, breast feeding rates have soared from 27% to 70%, and the BFI accreditation has been awarded and maintained for 15 years! This is no mean feat, given the demographics of the local population and the fact that there has been a huge service merger and reconfiguration. The current infant feeding coordinator, Sue Henry (@suziehenry68), has kindly reflected on this success with a guest post. Thanks Sue!

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) has been accredited with the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) award for 15 years this year. The maintenance of this award demonstrates the commitment of this hospital Trust to ensure high standards of care in relation to infant feeding. In December 2012 the Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) team assessed our unit again to ensure these standards have been maintained. The unit demonstrated at this assessment that standards of care remain high and BFI re-accredited us with this prestigious award. Policy and guidelines are evidence based, all staff are trained appropriately, and mums can expect skilled support and sound information. The unit will be re-assessed in four years.

In the beginning, it was the Head of Midwifery (Pauline Quinn) who ensured that ELHT progressed forward with the BFHI standards. Many significant changes were seen including the end of separation of mums and babies, abolition of routine formula supplementation for breastfed babies, the start of skin to skin contact after birth, and closer working with community colleagues to ensure ongoing support in the community. Infant feeding co-ordinators over the years (Catherine Boyle, Cathie Melvin and Sue Henry) supported staff through this change and ensured that they were abreast of the evidence.

As time went by ELHT saw our audit results improve, staff becoming conversant with the standards, a change of hearts and minds was witnessed, and breastfeeding rates rising from then 27% to now 70%, maximising potential for improvement in public health. Two hospitals (Royal Blackburn and Burnley General) merged to become ELHT – and both hospitals gained full BFHI accreditation before the merge.

The BFHI have updated their standards during this time, and more recently launched revised standards (December 2012). ELHT are now working to ensure these revised standards are embedded in practice. These standards now have a focus not just on infant feeding, but also on relationship building between mum and baby. We know the two intertwine and we feel excited about sharing new knowledge with staff and local women and families.

Reflecting on what the BFHI means to us locally in addition to giving us evidence based standards and rising breastfeeding rates, the BFHI team gives support, encouragement, direction, external audit (quality checks), and importantly belief. A belief that it is possible to change lives, not just by increasing breastfeeding rates but also by enhancing the feeding experience and the closeness felt between a mum and baby. These memories for mothers last forever.  We are increasingly aware of the importance of bonding, confidence building, care for preterm babies in the neonatal unit and brain development. We thank UNICEF BFI for taking us forward so that we can do our best for babies and families.

How have we maintained our BFHI standards for so long?  Staying committed with support from all staff levels, constantly re-auditing standards and making improvements, having a project lead to keep driving agenda forward, believing in breast milk / breastfeeding, believing in informed choice for all mums, and believing in equality – every mum being support in her choice. Choice is very important. Every mums feeding experience is important. These are things we at ELHT respect. 

Listography: top 5 things I love about kids

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Me with my children, the day after Olivia was born

This is the first time I have joined in with doing the Listography thing, although I’ve read many of the others and thought it interesting and entertaining!

This is a photo of my children, just after the birth of my fourth baby, Olivia in 1989. Special moment. Now I am a grandmother too…so what constitutes kids? Thought about writing about my grown up ‘kids’, but then it really got complicated. So I have focused on the new kids….my grandchildren.

Memories

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Our grandchildren

My grandchildren have brought the memories of the intense love I felt for my own children, flooding back.

Once my children were grown and gone, I thought I would never be able to smell the warm neck of a child I loved again, nor feel nourished by a chubby hand clinging to my finger. So imagine my delight when the pleasures returned thanks to Seamus, Minnie, Quentin and Archie!

Truthfulness

These same grandchildren tell us the truth when it comes to matters of the heart, and sight! My husband Paul walks Seamus (aged 6) to school and back every day. ‘An old man like you came to school today, Grandad!’ he said recently as he skipped along. And we don’t feel old? We do after those comments!

But in the eyes of those little ones we are the last generation. Let’s hope they have a good impression of our behaviour in our ‘old age’

Energy

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Seamus ‘scooting’

Kids have so much energy! Now that definitely hasn’t changed….BUT now as I am older, it’s more noticeable. We have less energy, but have more time to observe theirs! Phew….

Adaptability

I have noticed how my little grandchildren have adapted so quickly to several changes in their lives, and some tricky ones at that.

Good fun!

We laugh so much when our grandchildren are around us. Seamus keeps us on our toes by questioning our actions, and then make us smile with his take on things. In Holland (two of our grandchildren are Dutch) Minnie corrects my attempts to speak her language….ever so patiently…but we end up laughing out loud. And Quentin and Archie are unaware of their ability to make us smile….

We love it!

Human Rights and Childbirth: the mother, the baby and the carer

Human right to birth; human right to love

So much attention has been given to this topic in the midwifery world recently, due to the dreadful situation in Hungary with Agnes Gereb. And of course there is much concern about the future of Independent Midwifery in the UK.

Across the water in the Netherlands where my son and grandchildren live, a group of activist are rallying experts to debate the issue of women’s choice in place of birth.  The group have organised a unique  conference at the end of the month in the Hague, and a webinar that will be LIVE streamed and available for 30 days following the conference.  This webinar is being offered at a discounted rate if you book via the discount code detailed below. 

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The organisers are a small group of dedicated volunteers and have been working hard to get the conference funded and ready in time.  They are happy to report that the conference is going ahead, although it has been on a shoestring budget.  The line up of panelist is impressive; a team of international voices to help move the subject of human rights in childbirth from theory to reality.   The conference will be a platform to explore the practical aspects of human rights in 21st century healthcare systems, and how those systems can both maximize safety and respect the dignity of the women they support.

For details please visit the website: www.humanrightsinchildbirth.com.

About the Human Rights in Childbirth Webinar: 
This webinar provides a unique opportunity for professionals and parents around the world to be a part of the global discussion on human rights in childbirth.   The Human Rights in Childbirth Conference will be LIVE streamed by a professional team, so you can watch live and join the discussion via twitter.  If you are unable to join live, you will be able to watch the conference panels at your leisure VIA THE WEBINAR for 30 days following the conference, join the ongoing discussion via the Facebook page, and connect with the regional and international networks of professionals capable of protecting women’s fundamental right to authority and support in childbirth.

The organisers want the conference to be accessible for my contacts, and they have negotiated a special price for you to join this important event!

Regular Price: €175 inclusive the pre-conference publication.

Special Price for Sheena Byrom’s community:  €75 pre-conference publication not included.

How to get this special price:

1.    Go to the Registration Form: Registration Page

2.    Fill in the registration form and select the webinar (you will see the regular prices but don’t worry you will get your discount!), in the field “How did you learn about the conference? *” fill in “Catching Babies Discount”

3.    Do not pay by clicking on the PAY PAL directly (then you will pay the regular price). You will receive a confirmation email from our office with the discounted price and you can pay either via PAY PAL or via a bank transfer.  The details for this will be provided in the email confirmation (this is created by a human, it is not an automatic mail, so won’t be sent directly).

I think this is an amazing offer; by engaging with this event you will have the potential to influence global change in maternity care, through increased knowledge.

Congratulation to my colleagues in the Netherlands for their hard work and dedication in making this possible.