“Young women these days may not need a book to get answers to their questions about pregnancy. After all, they have the Internet for that.” – NPR’s Lynn Neary on “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”
Birth activists, professionals, practitioners: take note. Women –of all ages and socio-economic levels—are turning to the Internet to answer their questions about pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
Widespread, meaningful influence of birth information available to women used to require a book deal, a publicist, a book tour, a NY Times bestseller. Now all it requires is a laptop, an Internet connection and the savvy use of low-cost, easy-to-learn tools.
These tools are game changers for those of us who want to spread evidence-based information, influence birth policy, and build our business.
Social Media Helps Mothers Influence Birth Policy
Not sold yet? Hear how social media has organized mothers:
In New York State, homebirth access was at risk without the passage of new legislation. The statewide midwifery advocacy group, the New York State Association of Licensed Midwives, hired a lobbyist and went to the capitol. The legislators’ response? We need to hear from moms, not midwives. A small group of homebirth mothers in central New York got out their laptops and, working at night after day jobs and child rearing, organized thousands of moms into the homebirth advocacy group, Free Our Midwives. All through one blog and Facebook and Twitter accounts—with a budget of less than $500—more than 14,000 mothers were educated and thousands were mobilized into quick action, including a last-minute effort that flooded the governor’s office with calls in less than an hour. ACOG came out strongly against the legislation, but social media effectively leveraged the power of a few women in upstate New York and gave them the ability to mobilize large groups of constituents through the sharing of a simple Facebook status update. Freeourmidwives.org was honored by the statewide midwives for their key role in passage of the bill.
Social Media Helps Educate Mothers
Still not sure? Learn about how social media is educating mothers:
Increasingly, research is showing us that women are turning to the Internet to research health care questions. According to one survey, nearly half say they research health questions on the Internet first before calling their own health care provider.
The amount of information about pregnancy and birth on the Internet is astounding – googling “pregnancy” delivers more than 300 million results. Is all of the information credible, evidence-based, or empowering to women? Surely not.
But don’t discount the sophistication of the 2.0 mom. When searching for credible information on any topic, they are making complex choices about accuracy, source reliability, and compatibility with their personal goals and philosophies. The same is true when seeking out health information—while one in three adults report they or someone they know have been helped by medical advice on the Internet, only three percent report any harm.
Not since the printing press has there been a similar revolution brought on by the amazing proliferation of information access. It is no coincidence that the rapid access to health care information in all areas is happening in parallel with significant changes away from the top-down thinking of “doctor is always right” to a shared decision-making model.
So how do we counter inaccurate or disempowering information? By increasing the spread of accurate information that we know will educate and empower women. By learning the tools we need to make *our* web pages come to the top of Google. By making healthy birth go viral.
This is critical—current research shows that, despite access to information, women are still, on the whole, not educated about birth.1 The recent Amnesty International report, Deadly Delivery—and our own common sense—tells us that educating women with evidence-based information will improve maternal and infant health outcomes.
The spread of smart phone technology means that Internet access is no longer confined to those with a nice computer and Wi-Fi. Eighty-five percent of all Americans own a cell phone, and seven in ten send or receive text messages. Text4Baby, a program of the National Healthy Babies, Healthy Mothers Coalition where women receive evidence-based health care information via phone texts, was built on the premise that low-income women, most in need of good health care information, are best reached through mobile technology.
Social Media Helps Build Your Birth Business and Grow Your Organization
The effective spread of great information is a win-win situation. It not only helps women, it also helps you build your business.
Social media is not really just about the spread of information. It is about engaging with your audience, not doing all the talking, but being a good listener. Sound familiar?
The best social media practitioners are just like the best midwives, lactation consultants, and childbirth educators. They listen to their audience, hear their needs, and deliver evidence-based information in the style best suited to the mother’s personality and learning preferences. Social media was made for us!
Women are increasingly turning to the Internet, not only to find information and camaraderie with others experiencing a similar stage of life, but to find providers. By being out there, spreading evidence-based, empowering information, you are also finding the women who are the best possible fit for your practice.
None of this means that you need to live your life at a screen. Or that you need to launch the next leading birth blog to influence the information landscape. With 15 minutes a day, you can maintain a social media presence that has the power to spread evidence-based information, influence maternal health policy and build your business.
The beauty of social media is that it is not one size fits all. You can customize a web presence that fits your speed, style and needs.
Not sure how to get started? The good news is that you are not alone. You can get involved in ways big and small. If you sit on the board of your local birth non-profit organization, or are a decision maker at a birth business, support efforts to engage with social media, even if you don’t plan to build your personal presence online.
Nearly every birth conference these days has a workshop on social media—attend it! Participate in webinars like the one recently sponsored by Lamaze and delivered by Science & Sensibility’s Kimmelin Hull, and Giving Birth With Confidence’s Cara Terreri. Together, we can provide women with what they most need – high quality, evidence-based information about birth.
1 Klein, M.C., et al. (2011). Birth technology and maternal roles in birth: knowledge and attitudes of Canadian women approaching childbirth for the first time. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 33, 59-608.
Hillary Boucher and Jeanette McCulloch are birth activists and professionals
and co-moderators of #BirthGenius, a Twitter chat designed to build a community
of birth professionals working together to make healthy birth go viral.
Learn more at their new blog, www.birthswell.org.