In the last weeks of March, after WHO declared a pandemic and thousands of patients in New York hospitals fought COVID-19, Dr. Tali Bogler saw panic in the faces of her pregnant patients.
Future parents, already nervous about having a baby, were afraid – they were afraid of getting sick with the coronavirus, they were afraid of going to the hospital, they were afraid of giving birth and being parents in the event of a pandemic.
“You could see the concern, this real worry and this palpable anxiety when it became clear that COVID-19 was going to become a problem in Toronto,” said Bogler, president of family obstetrics at St. Michael’s Hospital .
Almost immediately, she and her colleagues knew they had to find a way to allay the fears of their patients. Small team of doctors and medical students turned to social media and launched an Instagram account – Pandemic Pregnancy Guide – on April 4 to provide free evidence-based health information to new parents and women pregnant.
Months later, the account has grown and grown to 9,000 subscribers, adding comforting birth stories from its subscribers, adapting content to reflect new COVID-19 knowledge, and hosting live lessons with a range of experts, from NICU doctors to lactation consultants, financial experts to yoga instructors.
Bogler said the popularity of the account is a sign that pregnant women and new parents are looking for easy access to trusted experts, especially during turbulent times.
“Immediately, after our very first post where we went and said what our mission was, the account took off,” said Bogler, also a doctor with the hospital’s family and community medicine department.
“We measure our success, not only by our numbers, but by what our patients say. We get direct messages all the time about what it means to them, that PPG is their reference guide during this time of uncertainty. “
Bogler believes Pandemic Pregnancy Guide is one of the first Instagram accounts to offer science-based pregnancy counseling directly to patients during the pandemic, and said he could be a role model for other patient groups, all the more so since the pandemic has slowed down many meetings with patients.
The small team of doctors, medical students, and residents who manage the account are not receiving hospital funding and have declined sponsorship offers. Experts give their time and advice and PPG has so far not partnered with social media influencers, although the team has been approached.
The fact that PPG is run by volunteers means that patients and parents can trust its content, said Bogler.
“As healthcare providers, we were clear at the outset that providing evidence-based information means that it must be free from influence to be reliable,” she said. “We’re not trying to be like a mom Facebook group (although these are important) … it’s really about offering an evidence-based, multidisciplinary platform – and one run by doctors. “
Nakita Singh has followed PPG since her first article and has seen the account grow in tandem with her pregnancy.
A few days before giving birth, the Toronto television producer said PPG helped her stay healthy by offering advice on everything from breastfeeding to what to pack for the hospital – all on Instagram, an app she uses every day.
PPG also helped Singh, a first-time mom and Bogler patient, to feel connected during the months of self-isolation. As PPG gathered followers, more and more questions and shared their own experiences and perspectives with the group.
“It is really helpful to be part of a community and to know that you are not alone in what you are going through. “
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Singh rarely misses PPG’s live Instagram lessons with experts, especially those who focus on prenatal yoga and mindfulness techniques.
“They were really helpful at first,” she said. “We were in seclusion, and it was such an anxious time, but so many people could go on this platform and take a 30-minute break from their day to focus on their baby and their sanity. It was a blessing. ”
Bogler, along with Dr. Eliane Shore and Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe, are the doctors who run PPG. As mothers, they know firsthand the difficulties that parents may face in the weeks and months before and after birth.
Bogler has twin daughters, now two and a half years old, who spent their first month at the NICU in St. Mike’s. She said the distressed experience was tempered by the empathetic care received by her family, particularly from the neonatologist Dr. Douglas Campbell, head of the NICU at the hospital.
“He instilled such calm in me; I wanted to offer this to other parents, ”said Bogler, who invited Campbell to make several interview-type videos for the PPG community, including one aimed at determining if people with COVID-19 could breastfeed safely . (Campbell told his subscribers that, so far, the evidence suggests that you can and that the known benefits of breastfeeding currently outweigh the risks).
“Parents had so many questions about the impact of the virus on their babies. I knew he could talk about the evidence and do it in a reassuring way without creating fear and anxiety. ”
Cheyanne Reed, a third-year medical student at the University of Toronto, has been helping to write, edit and monitor PPG content since April. She said the experience completed her clinical training, which was put on hold during the pandemic, and taught her to answer the types of questions faced by new and expectant parents.
“It gave me skills to help me communicate with patients,” said Reed, adding that she and the other medical students involved bring their social media and design skills to the project. “We know the technology; I’ve seen Instagram evolve and a lot of the information we get and digest is through social media. ”
Recently, Bogler and his team interviewed PPG subscribers about how the account can best support them as their pregnancies and parenting lives progress with the pandemic. Some 1,600 people responded, and the team will analyze the results to guide their journey.
“The pandemic will not end soon. We need to find out what other patients need to know. “
Singh, who appreciates the range of voices and diverse perspectives presented by the Pandemic Pregnancy Guide, hopes that this will continue beyond the pandemic.
“It appeals to so many different people … It really reflects what’s going on in the world, and that’s what I like about it,” says Singh.
“There is something that every woman, every person, can relate to. “
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