Nova Scotia

N.S. moms question province's decision to scrap online prenatal classes

A Halifax mom says it's hypocritical for the province to scrap its online prenatal classes, citing low numbers, when it's responsible for offering a resource no one wanted to use.

'You don't have enough demand for the program because you're not offering something useful'

Sarah Baker, pictured with her four-month-old son, says 'it's terrible' that the Nova Scotia Health Authority abandoned the Welcoming to Parenting website even if it had serious problems. (Submitted by Sarah Baker)

An online prenatal program that was recently nixed by the province because of declining enrolment was doomed to fail, say some Nova Scotian moms.

Jill Campbell-Miller, who has a two-year-old daughter, tried to complete the program offered on the Welcome to Parenting website back in 2016, but eventually abandoned it.

"It had misspellings. It had broken links. It had things that were simply wrong," she said.

"It was really frustrating. I kept hoping it was going to give more practical advice, more specific advice about what the birth was going to look like, about delivery, about strategies for managing pain and all those things. And I wasn't getting it."

Late last year,  the Nova Scotia Health Authority stopped offering prenatal programming through its Welcome to Parenting website, which provided information about pregnancy, labour, birth, breastfeeding and newborn care as well as a forum for parents to share their experiences.

This comes four years after in-person prenatal classes were also phased out. 

Jill Campbell-Miller said the online course was poorly designed and contained misspellings and broken links. (Submitted by Jill Campbell-Miller)

The health authority said parents showed little interest in either option.

Nearly 8,500 babies are born each year in the province, but over the four years the course was offered, only 4,507 people registered for Welcome to Parenting and enrolment declined each year. 

Campbell-Miller isn't surprised by those low numbers.

"You don't have enough demand for the program because you're not offering something useful," she said.

"I just felt it was extremely hypocritical because they made an online course that was not useful and then it was almost like they were blaming the … parents for not using it."

It's just the latest setback for new parents, according to Campbell-Miller. In 2010, tours at the IWK Health Centre for expectant mothers also ended.

While the health authority no longer offers prenatal classes, in-person classes are still available at family resource centres, non-profit organizations and private businesses. The IWK Health Centre also has a doula on hand to speak to parents during certain times of the week. 

Website was 'overwhelming' 

Sarah Baker, who lives in Bridgewater, gave birth to her first child last fall. She said she was disappointed when she learned she couldn't attend an in-person prenatal class, but decided to give the online course a try anyway.

From the moment she logged on, it was overwhelming, she said. 

"There was so much information — all of it valuable, you know, I'm not denying that it wasn't valuable — but it was like information overload," said Baker.

But once the website was scrapped, "I felt ... a complete loss of support," she said.

"Having to be forced into the online courses if I wanted to learn anything, [then] to hear that those are gone as well and that there is no kind of official classes anymore, I think it's terrible."

The Nova Scotia Health Authority obtained the Welcome to Parenting program from the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families in Ontario. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

Two weeks before she was due, Baker called the family resource centre in Bridgewater to ask if there were any prenatal courses being offered. She said the centre quickly assembled a makeshift class for her and another expectant mother.

She said she learned more from those two hours than all the time she spent on the website, proof the province needs to return to offering in-person prenatal classes.

NSHA responds

Janis Kay-Hatfield, an early years consultant with the health authority, said she understands some parents were frustrated and disappointed with the online tool, but that others did find it helpful.

On Friday, she reiterated NSHA's reasons for scrapping the website.

"The rate of new users were low ... and it was low participation in the actual class content," said Kay-Hatfield, adding there are more online resources now than there were in 2014 when the program started. 

Welcome to Parenting was contracted through Phoenix Centre for Children and Families in Ontario and Kay-Hatfield said she couldn't speak to concerns about its content. She said because the health authority didn't own the site, there was no way to make improvements. 

NSHA now directs parents to a webpage with a list of links to resources. 

The health authority says it is working to expand its prenatal support for new parents. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Welcome to Parenting cost about $49,500 on average per year.

The funds will now be used in other areas, for resources such as the "Loving Care" books, which are provided to new parents, Kay-Hatfield said. 

"At public health, our goal is to connect with all families," she said. "Last year, 2017-2018, we actually connected with 92 per cent of all families who had a baby in Nova Scotia. Currently, the support usually happens in the post-natal period,  after the birth of the baby."

With files from Frances Willick

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