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Supporting parents to be the best they can: The Start4Life Information Service for Parents and CANparent

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Standing in the bathroom with a positive pregnancy test in her hand, a woman is at the start of an incredible time of change.

Clare Sandling

She needs to learn a huge amount of new information about pregnancy, birth and parenting, and this is a great opportunity for her to decide to make positive changes to her lifestyle, her health choices, and the supportive relationships around her.

In the modern world our instinct is to turn to the internet for information. The mass of information available to the woman as she searches for advice on her pregnancy is overwhelming. What can she trust?

The NHS Information Service for Parents was launched in 2012 and offers expectant and new mums and dads regular emails through pregnancy and into early childhood, giving them a comprehensive guide to issues from baby and child development and health advice through to accident prevention, relationship advice and managing money. Health advice is offered mainly through links to NHS Choices, but the service also links to many other evidence-based sites that parents can trust to give them accurate information.

Earlier this year it linked with Start4Life, PHE’s marketing programme supporting pregnant women and new mums, which focuses on key behaviours – keeping active, healthy eating, taking supplements such as folic acid, stopping smoking, alcohol use, carbon monoxide exposure, and focusing on ‘taking care of you too.’

When our newly pregnant mum searches NHS choices pregnancy pages, a pop-up invites her to join the Start4Life Information Service for Parents.

If she hadn’t joined through this route, her midwife should give her information about the service at her booking in appointment. We are working towards sign up for all mums via maternity IT systems in the future.

She gets a welcome email, and then weekly emails that offer her information on five or six issues, with high quality short video clips showing a health visitor, a midwife, or a group of parents talking about a specific issue. At this moment in her life, she is keen to make some changes, and makes use of the advice and support to help improve her diet and fitness.

Our new mum invites her partner to join up to the service. He will get emails tailored to dads, helping him to feel more involved in the pregnancy and birth.

Once the baby is born, the Information Service continues to offer evidence-based advice. Our mum and dad click through to advice on breastfeeding, tongue-tie and coping with crying.

As the baby grows older, emails drop to monthly, and offer advice on issues like finding childcare and returning to work, as well as continuing health messages and reminders about vaccinations and Healthy Child Programme checks.

The Start4Life Information Service for Parents is currently being developed for 3 – 5 year olds, supporting parents through the whole of the early years.

At two and a half, our parents find themselves struggling with regular tantrums from their older boy. They feel they need some more in depth advice and support.

Their health visitor suggests a CANparent class. Our mum and dad attended antenatal classes as almost all parents do, but they had not thought about classes for parents of older children. They find a group class on the CANparent website and are able to take a 6 week class which leaves them feeling more confident and less stressed in coping with their child’s behaviour.

Making parenting classes an accessible, normal part of family life continues to be a high priority for the government. CANparent is a consortium supporting the delivery of quality mark approved universal parenting classes to help parents and parents to-be prepare for the everyday challenges of family life, supporting positive outcomes for families and children.

Supporting parents to be the best they can be means offering them the information and advice they need, when they need it and in the format that is most helpful to them. The Start4Life Information Service and CANparent are two very different initiatives that support parents with a breadth of online support and with in-depth parenting classes.


To learn more about the Start4Life Information Service for Parents go to

CANparent offers online and group classes across the country, while continuing to do focused work in the trial areas of High Peak, Camden, Bristol and Middlesbrough. To consider commissioning parenting classes from CANparent providers or to raise awareness of CANparent with expectant and or new parents, visit or call 0808 800 1102.


Clare Sandling, Starting Well Policy Lead at the Department of Health

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