Small Moments, Big Impact: An App to Promote New Mothers’ Wellbeing
June 29, 2020
I have been a pediatrician in inner-city Boston for over 45 years. During my residency, I was trained to diagnose and treat children with acute and chronic medical problems. Over time, I realized that was not enough to help children be healthy, happy, and do well in school. I learned that the best way I could help children achieve these goals is by helping their parents, and that the best way to reach parents is through their children. An “a-ha” moment.
With that lesson in mind, my colleagues and I at Boston Medical Center, in collaboration with WGBH and mothers of our patients, developed Small Moments, Big Impact (SMBI), a free app to promote new mothers’ emotional wellbeing and resilience. We believe the app will help the mothers themselves, as well as help them give their babies the empathic and nurturing care every mother wants to provide. Now during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely needed more than ever as mothers struggle with new stresses.
SMBI is designed to be used by mothers during a baby’s first six months, either alone, or ideally—and more effectively— when shared and discussed with friends, relatives, other parents, as well as health care providers and home visitors. Each week there is a segment to illustrate how parents can connect with their babies and themselves. SMBI is different from other apps in many ways. We don’t provide answers to common questions, as these are readily found on the internet, in handouts, or are easily answered by professionals, friends, or family. Instead, we focus on how a mother is coping, how her thoughts and feelings are affecting her responses to her baby, and how her responses, in turn, may affect her baby. Each week there are two brief videos of mothers and fathers talking about their past adversities, present challenges, joys, and aspirations.
These stories validate recollections and feelings in mothers, and help them to acknowledge and share their own stories with providers, friends, relatives, and other mothers, building and enriching their support network. This is especially important for growing the relationship between health providers and mothers early on. Health providers have told us that a mother’s usual response to “How are you doing ?” is “OK,” which doesn’t really convey any information or feelings. However, after watching the videos, mothers are more likely to acknowledge they have similar feelings, and they may be more willing to tell their own stories. A mother sharing her feelings and stories with her health providers can be the beginning of a deeper and more meaningful relationship.
The SMBI app also has a feature to allow mothers to make and keep their own weekly video as a personal visual journal tracking their feelings and experiences during the first six months. The app also offers simple exercises and mindfulness practices. Small Moments Big Impact (SMBI) can be downloaded for free from the App Store for smartphones now and an Android version will be available by mid-July.
Dr. Barry Zuckerman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine/Boston Medical Center. He has long focused on how the social environment affects the health of low-income children. He launched Reach Out and Read, an early literacy program that calls for primary care providers to write “prescriptions” for parents to read to their children. He also founded the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children, a national model that brings lawyers into hospitals to help doctors and patients navigate the legal system to secure services.