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Virtual nudges help expectant mothers with safe pregnancy, study

The study found personalised coaching using digital tools can improve the lifestyle and health of women and their babies.

The study showed remarkable improvement in women having difficulty conceiving, especially overweight women. (Aditya Romansa/ Unsplash)

Personalised virtual coaching can help expecting mothers to improve their lifestyle behaviours and thereby, navigate difficult pregnancy. According to a recent study, women had either experienced difficulties in conceiving or recurrent miscarriages showed remarkable improvement after going through online lifestyle coaching programme Smarter Pregnancy.

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Led by the University of Southampton, the study published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online, show that digital healthcare could be a cost-effective way to deliver tailored advice to women who experience difficulties in pregnancy, which the government healthcare service does not have the resources to provide. The biggest reduction in behaviours that pose risks to pregnancy was seen in overweight women.

About 262 women were enrolled for the study, where they completed questionnaires through the progamme's app at the beginning and at six-week intervals over the four-month trial. The questionnaires covered subjects such as their diet, folic acid intake, smoking and consumption of alcohol.

After each questionnaire, half of the participants (the intervention group) were sent automated advice and recommendations through the coaching platform, based on their responses. The other half (the control group) were referred to standard guidance for periconceptional care on the government healthcare service website.

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It was observed that the group receiving advice through the Smarter Pregnancy platform were more likely to make positive changes to their lifestyle over the course of the trial than participants in the control group. The most significant change was in the reduction in smoking and alcohol consumption for those with a Body Mass Index above 25 (overweight).

The findings also showed that the odds of becoming pregnant after 24 weeks were increased for the participants using the app. However, the researchers note that more research would be needed to validate this connection as this study was targeted at improving lifestyle choices rather than assessing pregnancy rates.

Dr Bonnie Ng, MRC Fellow in clinical and experimental sciences at the University of Southampton, said, "Our trial shows that digital healthcare tools can help women improve their lifestyle and the health of their babies. Using this tool, women can take control of their own body, and it also removes the impression that they are being 'told off' when they see their doctor."

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