‘What About Mom?’ e-health program expands to support new teen mothers
By Sally Crocker
Coming home from the hospital with a new baby can be hard, whether you’re a first-time parent or an experienced pro. But for teenage moms, the challenge can be especially daunting.
Most teens don’t plan to get pregnant, although some do. While U.S. rates of teen pregnancy have declined in recent decades, the CDC reported nearly 200,000 babies were born to women aged 15 to 19 during the year 2017.
Great progress has been made over the last 30 years in reproductive health, and at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC), researchers and young adult advocates are working hard to provide resources for teen moms to support their health and the health of their babies.
“What About Mom?” is an easy to use, online symptom checker developed for new mothers and their families by HSC researcher Dr. Teresa Wagner, to help them identify postnatal warning signs that could require immediate 911 attention or a call to their health provider.
“Teen moms have a higher risk for complications from pregnancy,” said Dr. Wagner, Assistant Professor in the HSC School of Health Professions (SHP) and Clinical Executive for SaferCare Texas, who serves as Project Lead/Principal Investigator (PI) on this project through the Texas Center for Health Disparities, funded through a U54 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In 2019, Dr. Wagner collaborated with a TCOM research assistant and faculty and students from the TCU Schools of Nursing, Computer Science and Communications to introduce the first version of “What About Mom?”
The app was recently tested with mothers aged 18-21 who had given birth within the previous two years, to study its effectiveness in addressing their specific health questions in an online format they prefer.
“Teen pregnancies can carry extra health risks both physically and mentally for mothers and can place their babies at risk,” Dr. Wagner said. “Teen moms’ bodies are not fully developed to carry a baby, and they can also be more vulnerable to psychological stresses like postpartum depression, especially if they weren’t intending to become pregnant.”
Based on the teen mothers’ responses, “What About Mom?” is adding short videos addressing the five most prevalent causes of postpartum death in Texas, including depression, infection and high blood pressure. The videos will feature real stories from moms who have actually experienced those types of health concerns. Survey findings confirmed that young adults relate well to personal accounts from real people like themselves who have been through similar situations.
The teen respondents also requested conversion of the program into both iOS and Android mobile apps that can be downloaded free and accessed from their smartphones, with touch-dial access to the important emergency numbers provided for assistance.
“What About Mom?” can be especially important for young mothers in rural areas, Dr. Wagner noted, or within communities impacted by health disparities, where resources or access to postnatal care may be limited.
“Young adults’ skills in finding, understanding and applying credible health information online may be less mature than for new moms in older age groups,” Dr. Wagner said. “They may also feel less comfortable with e-health navigation and their own experience in solving health problems when something feels physically or psychologically troubling.”
“It’s important for young mothers to know how to take care of not just their new baby but also themselves,” she said.
In the last two years, the program has received accolades from the 2020 United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC) Awards for Community Engagement, and from the 2019 American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Annual Conference.
“Expanding to meet the needs of young moms specifically now is a natural extension of our efforts to build healthier communities,” Dr. Wagner said. “It’s hoped that ‘What About Mom?’ can provide teen mothers and their families with an important resource when they may need it most.”