Involving pregnant women and new parents through Facebook
Setting up a Facebook group has been an effective way to involve pregnant women and new parents, and to get their views on policies and services.
Involving pregnant women and new parents in co-production and sustained engagement has always been challenging for maternity services. Women tend to be very interested in maternity issues for a short time, during pregnancy and the immediate postnatal period, then move on to focus on other parts of their lives. Traditional committees and service user groups such as Maternity Services Liaison Committees (MSLCs) have frequently found it difficult to recruit and retain service users.
On the other hand, a small proportion of women engage for many years, often training to become birth support workers or professionals such as doulas, antenatal teachers, or lactation consultants. These 'expert' service users have been a real asset in terms of co-production work, but we also need the voices of recent service users.
What we did
We changed the nature of our longstanding MSLCs so that it became something of a steering group, coordinating and helping identify opportunities for women and parents to become involved in short-life working groups and task/finish groups, rather than seeking reps on an ongoing committee.
This work was supported by the development of the 'NI Maternity Forum' on Facebook, which was set up and is run by the women. The Facebook group has over 2,000 members, and is very active with peer support, communication from services, opportunities for engagement, as well as posts from the service directly seeking feedback on a particular topic, proposal, or service. Members find out about the forum mainly by word of mouth, often through other Facebook groups for specific towns or areas. Maternity staff also promote it. Communication through the Facebook page has increased significantly during the pandemic, including lots of peer support, information sharing, and clarification from maternity services about current restrictions.
The new model is working more effectively, as women and parents choose to engage in topics of particular interest to them, such as breastfeeding, induction of labour, home birth or bereavement. Meanwhile, the longstanding 'expert' MSLCs members curate and share opportunities and coordinate links between the service and the Facebook group members.
What worked well
- Significantly more engagement
- Engagement tailored to people's own passions and interests
- A balance between long-term 'expert' women/partners, and very recent or new service users
- More women becoming involved in co-production
- Extremely positive feedback from women
- Opportunities for staff to engage in debates in real time, to clarify and provide accurate information. This has been vital during the COVID-19 restrictions in maternity and neonatal services
One of the women who has been involved in various aspects of the work describes its positive impact:
I have been involved as a service user rep on the MSLCs and other working groups for number of years, and have felt very much a part of improving maternity services and the care that is offered to women and their families. It is brilliant that the Trust is actively seeking service user involvement and through this co-production model, they are listening to voice of the service user and using it to drive and implement change. Through this work, I have also built strong relationships with maternity staff which has helped me in my day job to support women who are using the services.
Not all women use Facebook. Younger women sometimes report they join or reactivate their accounts simply to access the group. We continue to monitor various new platforms as they emerge, to assess which might be both popular and suitable for future parents.
In future, Facebook may not be a sustainable platform, if most mothers no longer use it. Other popular social media platforms such as Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram are unsuited to this type of forum.
Speakers of other languages and people with reading or writing difficulties are disadvantaged. We seek feedback from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women via direct engagement with BAME community groups, and seek feedback from specific parents to ensure we are involving a wide range of voices. Our work also involves face-to-face aspects, which minimise the need for written language.
There is work in getting the forum embedded and active. It requires a core group of committed and well-supported activists, campaigners and birth workers, with support from maternity staff.
Leslie Altic (Birthwise)