The Atlas of Shared Learning

Case study

The use of social media to support weight management in pregnancy

Leading change

Midwives at West Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust led a social media project to engage with women who may need weight management support during their pregnancy. This has led to a significant improvement in engagement, outcomes and overall patient experience.

Where to look

NICE (2010) highlights that health professionals should understand and promote the importance of achieving a healthy weight before pregnancy. Local education initiatives should also stress the health risks of being obese, including during pregnancy. The guidance outlines that health professionals should use appropriate opportunities to provide women with a BMI of 30 or more with information about the health benefits of losing weight before becoming pregnant.

The maternity department at West Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had a Weight Management in Pregnancy (WMIP) programme in place to support women face-to-face during their pregnancy with weight management issues. However, the Trust identified that there were many women who were not fully engaged and therefore not accessing important information and support during their maternity care and this was often a logistics issue. This included ability to attend due to time, work or family commitments and travel. Some women reported negative experiences during their appointments when discussing weight in pregnancy.

The midwives identified unwarranted variation when investigating local performance data. There was a discrepancy between the numbers of women who might benefit from the WMIP (and other specialist services) and those attending the face to face sessions, showing that a significant number of women were not accessing available services. The maternity leads identified that a different approach to providing information and support was needed, tailoring the provision to support all women to access support appropriately.

What to change

Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance outlines how nurses and midwives can use social media and social networking sites responsibly and ‘Going Digital – developing resources for women and families in maternity care’ shares examples of digital applications and online information that has been developed for women and families during pregnancy.

Following a suggestion from one of the women attending the face-to-face groups, midwives identified that the use of a social media platform may improve engagement rates, supporting women to access information in their own time, overcoming some of the highlighted barriers to access.

How to change

Midwives, in collaboration with the Trust’s communications and engagement team, developed a social media page alongside women who attended the WMIP programme. It was agreed this was an accessible format which many women may already be familiar with and it is free to use. To ensure practice adhered to safety and expected parameters, guidance was consulted.

A three-month pilot was undertaken to assess the feasibility and impact of the social media page during which group permissions and membership were monitored and rules and best practice guidance collaboratively developed. Following the pilot, participation was widened to all women who might benefit from the WMIP programme and other group pages were developed to support women and their families.

Adding value

Better outcomes – Since the social media group was set up, there has been a significant improvement in attendance and levels of engagement with the WMIP programme. Social media group membership numbers are monitored and qualitative feedback on satisfaction captured. Women are now more aware of what the WMIP programme is about, have more confidence and network with each other. Overall, women feel more positive about their pregnancy, the service received and the extra pathway available for their pregnancy care.

Better experience – Women have responded extremely well to the new approach, especially the peer support element provided via the website. Feedback has demonstrated the benefit of using social media to improve their experience of maternity care and early parenthood. This project has also led to enhanced staff engagement and improved cross-site working.

Better use of resources – The use of social media has raised awareness amongst women of the group and available resources in the WMIP programme. It is anticipated that this could reduce the need for support from other services as their pregnancy develops. While the work to utilise social media is primarily based on support and information for women, the team have embraced this method of communication and are using similar methods to communicate with staff who work in the unit.

Leading Change, Adding Value – Midwives from West Sussex leading innovative social media project

Midwives from West Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust talk about how they have made positive changes to practice, leading an innovative social media project to engage with pregnant women.

Challenges and lessons learnt for implementation

Using social media within this setting has been very positive and has given the midwives lots of confidence – they have been able to share information with women more easily and effective communication between the team has also improved.

For more information contact

Dr Cate Bell
Head of Research
Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust