As any parent knows, having a baby is both exciting and a little daunting. Babies don’t come with instructions; something the Faculty of Nursing's Karen Benzies and her research team from the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute are trying to change.
They aren’t offering a book of instructions per se, but they are using community-based research to help parents find reliable information. As Benzies says, the community knows what it needs, the research is just to help them find what works.
The research team is assessing the use of a Welcome to Parenthood package as a way to deliver evidence-based information. It’s a bag containing a number of items, including parenting guidebooks, a baby onesie, and a wipe board which parents are encouraged to use to list the type of help they need from friends and family.
A research assistant reviews each item with the parents before they leave the hospital — even bookmarking important pages. This initial chat is a vital part of the research: the goal is to ensure that the bag isn’t just put in a corner when parents bring their new baby home.
Mother and father can help their baby’s brain develop
It is hoped this type of positive support allows parents to comfortably interact with their babies. Benzies points out that parent/child interaction is crucial to healthy brain development, especially in the first three years of life. However, parents can be reluctant to trust their parenting skills. “We’ve pathologized parenting,” says Benzies.
Therefore, the storybook that comes in the bag is there to promote parent/child contact that feels natural. “Many parents are so anxious, they forget they are the best toy in the room,” Benzies says.
Follow-up interviews with participants
Between September and December, 2014, 242 families at Calgary’s Rockyview Hospital received a Welcome to Parenthood package. In each case, only one of the parents is officially enrolled in the study; about 80 per cent were mothers, 20 per cent were fathers. In fact, the 24-hour cribside assistance manual is specifically aimed at the dads. Sarah Horn, the project co-ordinator, admits that approach “got a few chuckles.”
After three months, the study participants are contacted and asked a series of questions to determine the efficacy of the Welcome program.
Horn adds, one of the questions in the follow-up interview is: “What is your greatest joy?” After all, while parenting is challenging, it can also be a joy, especially with the right support.
What’s next? Baby in a Box
Benzies is already working on another project aimed at helping vulnerable families throughout Alberta. It’s a baby box, a large cardboard box containing clothes, information, and lined with a mattress so the box transforms into a safe place for a baby to sleep. The box is based on a Finnish model and that country’s philosophy of “Every child matters. Every family matters.”
Benzies has a similar philosophy: she says we “value that parenting role.”
- Funders: The Welcome to Parenthood project at the Rockyview General Hospital was funded by the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative and United Way of Calgary and Area.
Go to the Welcome to Parenthood – Alberta site for more information.