Add To Favorites
Austin-based nonprofit Hand to Hold launches app for parents of NICU babies
Austin American-Statesman - 6/11/2021
Families with children in neonatal intensive care units across the country now can get support and access to resources with an app from Hand to Hold.
The Austin-based nonprofit helps families who have or have had children in the NICU because of prematurity or medical complications.
One in seven babies spends some time in the NICU, and NICU mothers are 70% more likely to experience postpartum depression than mothers of babies who do not need a NICU stay.
Hand to Hold staff had been talking about creating an app for resources and to build connections for 10 years, says founder Kelli Kelley, but instead the focus was on building out its website and developing more in-person connections.
Families in the NICU: American Heart Association gives CPR kits to families in two local NICUs
The pandemic changed what families needed and what Hand to Hold could provide.
Hand to Hold typically would have its social work team in hospitals and offer in-person support groups. With the pandemic, COVID-19 policies limit visitors and mean the social work team can no longer be inside the hospital. In-person support groups went virtual.
Huggies, which has been a supporter of Hand to Hold for the last five years, looked at the pandemic as an opportunity to increase its support. "What does help look like?" asks Sarah Inbau, brand manager at Huggies. "It looks like 10-fold increased investment."
With the Hand to Hold app, families tell a little bit about themselves and the app tailors the information to their situation. Families who lost a baby need a different kind of support and different resources than families who have a baby in the NICU. Families who are at home with their NICU baby also need different support.
Expanding care: Even before official opening, Dell Children's fetal care center coordinating families' care
Inside the app are links to connect with other families who have similar stories or have been in the same hospital and a chat function to have a one-on one conversation with a family support specialist. The app is available in English and Spanish.
"We feel profoundly grateful to have Huggies behind us to connect with families in a way we have never connected before," Kelley says.
Previously, Hand to Hold knew very little about its 70,000 Facebook page followers. The app has offered insight into who these people are and what they are looking for from Hand to Hold.
The app can micro target information for families who have had cerebral palsy or families who have children who have had a brain bleed, families who have newly released NICU graduates and families whose children have been home for a while.
Families can ask questions and get responses from other families. Hand to Hold's staff also monitors the chat to share resources and correct any misinformation.
Even though Huggies is the sponsor, it's not the star of the show, Inbau says. Instead of ads, the app is designed like a trade show, as if different brands had a booth on the app, and people can choose to visit a brand instead of being bombarded by ads.
Creating a nonprofit: How Austin mom started Hand to Hold
Inbau, who is a parent of a NICU graduate, says the Huggies team has been really excited about what's being offered, and she'll hear from co-workers that they wished they had had this when their babies were in the NICU.
Apps, Inbau says, are where today's parents now are as the generation of parents to newborns shifts from Generation X to millennials. They want to be able to customize their experience and have access to information while visiting their baby in the NICU or when they are back at home pumping breast milk for their baby.
"We want to keep it to what matters most to parents," Inbau says. "Is it helpful, inspiring, entertaining?"
For Kelley, one of her goals with the app is for it to be convenient, but also to provide "the compassion of a friend that has been there and a community where all NICU parents feel like they belong," she says.
©2021 www.statesman.com. Visit statesman.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.