Virtual mentorship to support maternal and infant health and wellbeing


Parents unquestionably are the most important people in young children’s lives. Decades of research has illuminated how parents’ interactions with their young children form the bedrock for school readiness and subsequent life success.[i] At the same time, becoming a parent is a jolting transition. New mothers in particular can struggle, as situational challenges and physiological changes brought on by a baby’s birth often lead to increased stress and not infrequently to depression.[ii] Historically, however, the US has provided little support for the psychosocial needs of new parents.

NurturePA has responded to this lack of social supports for new parents by developing a text-based peer-to-peer mentorship program. NuturePA is a Pennsylvania-based non-profit organization seeking to promote the healthy social and emotional development of young children by enhancing the parenting skills of the children’s parents. NurturePA trains volunteers who are experienced parents and pairs them with the parents of newborns. Mentors use text messaging to support and encourage new parents while providing best-practice information, answers to the parents’ questions, and reminders about key milestone activities such as well-baby visits and immunizations. The primary goals of NuturePA are to help relieve maternal stress and social isolation and to encourage activities that promote healthy child development and infant mental health. Mentors engage with new parents in a text-based relationship that begins at infancy and continues through the first several years of the child’s life.

Drs. Lindsay Page (University of Pittsburgh) and Christina Weiland (University of Michigan) are engaged in a new research partnership with NurturePA to evaluate the efficacy of their model. The evaluation is in the early planning stages and will use a mixed-methods approach, incorporating impact analysis on a range of targeted parent and child outcomes; coding of texting conversations to describe the nature of the intervention; and qualitative interviews of parents and mentors.

[i] Bradley, Caldwell, & Rock, 1988; National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 1997; Pianta, Nimetz, & Bennett, 1997.

[ii] O’Hara & Swain, 1996.