With some studies suggesting as many as six out of seven women miss vital postnatal visits, FemTech World investigates why we need to change the narrative around postpartum recovery.
Sandra Wirström was working in the digital health sector in Sweden when she had her two daughters. She experienced birth injuries both times and she was surprised by the lack of data and support around post-natal care.
“I had to fight for every single piece of information and every single doctor appointment. I was extremely frustrated that nothing has been digitalised when it comes to the postpartum care,” says Sandra.
Sandra’s experience applies to hundreds of women across the UK. Recent figures show that six out of seven new mothers in England are not getting a check-up of their health six weeks after giving birth, despite such appointments becoming a new duty on the NHS. Of those who attend one, only 15 per cent have a dedicated consultation with a GP to discuss their physical and mental health, according to the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
Another US study from the American College of Obstreticians and Gynecologists revealed that as many as 40 per cent of women do not attend a postpartum medical visit after giving birth.
“Nothing has been done when it comes to postpartum digitalisation,” says Sandra. “So, about a year ago when I was on one of my walks with my second daughter, I thought ‘okay, we need to do something about this and change the narrative around postpartum care’.”
Soon after that Sandra met Astrid Gyllenkrok Kristensen, who was as passionate about women’s health as Sandra and like so many other mothers out there, struggled with the physical and emotional recovery process after giving birth.
They decided to set up LEIA, an app co-developed with midwives and medical experts that offers women personalised physical and mental health support during the postpartum months, also known as the fourth trimester.
“There are hundreds of apps to help you during pregnancy and everyone asks you how you feel,” says Astrid. “Post-delivery, you are left on your own in what seems to be the most overwhelming and sometimes traumatising time of your life. Out of 140 million women giving birth each year 90 per cent will experience emotional or physical difficulties, from breastfeeding complications to postnatal depression and pelvic dysfunction.
“When we started looking into this, we found that there were a couple of key issues leading to women struggling in silence,” Astrid continues. “The lack of digitalisation that Sandra mentioned is one of them, along with the lack of medical experts. Women do not get the information they need. They end up self-diagnosing and they have no idea who to turn to. There’s no structure and globally, the healthcare chain is very fragmented.
“There’s also a massive stigmatisation in society surrounding postpartum. The narrative, especially in Sweden, is that you’re supposed to give birth, and then within a week, go for power walk and have friends over.”
A study from the polling company Survation, revealed that 85 per cent of the 893 mothers in England interviewed over a month said their appointments were mainly or equally about the baby’s health and they did not get the chance to talk to the GP about their mental wellbeing.
Astrid says: “One of the problems of women are not getting the health care they need is because the healthcare system is not focused on the women’s perspective and is not based on their needs.
“Studies show us that suicide is now one of the leading causes of death in new mothers, up to one year after giving birth and this is something that shows the acceleration of the problem. The system is broken.”
The pandemic has only amplified this. Research by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance shows that more mothers than usual have been struggling during the pandemic because restrictions on social contact means they have been denied support from family and friends, which has led to more anxiety and loneliness.
LEIA is an app based on science and self-lived experiences of motherhood. Astrid explains that: “Together with both private and public health care, we created a medical advisory board to make sure that we achieve our primary focuses to create a solution and meet the needs of new mothers.”
“Before going into the product, what we wanted to do was to create an app that would help by giving women AI or data driven insights about their emotional and physical health, to help understand what’s going on in their head, what’s going on in their body and what the recovery process in the fourth trimester is.
“But we also wanted to include the partner within that experience, because men are also getting diagnosed with depression. Seeing it as a unit and not just pinpointing the woman, is something that we feel is integral for a healthy recovery.”
Astrid highlights how crucial postpartum check-ups really are when it comes to mental health.
“One of the key things during these visits is to screen women for postnatal depression, which is normally done face-to-face with a questionnaire called EPDS – Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. With LEIA, we’ve digitalised screening models for both postnatal depression, but also pelvic dysfunction, identifying women in risk at a much earlier stage. This means even before giving birth, we’ll be able to identify women at risk of postnatal depression.”
However, changing the narrative around postpartum care is as important as offering women the support they need.
Astrid says that: “Most people understand the first three trimesters and the changes in the women’s bodies because that narrative has been established.
“So, we want to establish a narrative around postpartum as well. People need to know that there’s a physical recovery and it takes a year for the body to recover after childbirth. We think that by educating people about the recovery process we can normalise it and start breaking down the stigma.”
Sandra adds: “There’s been a boom in the femtech market focusing on fertility and pregnancy.
“In the past years, there has been a digital transformation in areas such as fertility, period tracking and menopause. However, there are still a lot of things to do, especially when it comes to postpartum care. We’re still not getting educated enough about what is happening in our body after giving birth.”
LEIA’s data-driven approach aims to influence improvements in public health.
Globally, research data on postpartum care is limited. Amid a lack of awareness of postpartum conditions, however, investment in further studies and in developing options which address postpartum symptoms is also limited, says Astrid.
“We all know that politics is driven by economics,” she says.
“By collecting this data, we will be able to show how the lack of investment and support is actually affecting women. We have to put a number on the problem before they actually start looking into it.”
Sandra agrees: “It’s not only our perspective and our motivation, we are in fact putting the mothers in focus in everything we do by building an app for the mothers out there.”
Clearly, fundamental changes will be required to adequately address postpartum challenges in future. The success of LEIA in starting a conversation around postpartum care is, however, an important first step in driving this change.
Find out more about LEIA here.
Australia’s hassle-free emergency contraception service
Youly is the country’s first same day morning-after pill delivery service
Ordering your morning-after pill shouldn’t be complicated. Meet the Australian platform helping thousands of women access emergency contraception hassle-free.
Picture this: you come home from work and before getting a well-deserved takeaway, you go online and order your contraceptive pills.
In post-pandemic Australia, women can have access to birth control pills as well as the morning-after pill on the online women’s health platform, Youly.
Alongside emergency contraception, the Australian platform offers around-the-clock support and treatments for herpes, menopause, sleep, reflux, thrush and asthma – to name a few.
“Whether it’s music or online shopping, we have access to online services whenever we need them,” says Nic Blair, founder of Youly. “However, health care has fallen behind in that advancement.
“We saw that there was a clear gap in women’s health care. In the Australian market, emergency contraception was one thing that came up as a poor experience for most of the women. So, it was an opportunity for us to close that gap and create a better, more discreet and more convenient experience for women to access health care.”
The founder says that the key is to understand the needs of the consumer. “Because I come from a digital background, I had a fast-moving digital technology mindset that proved beneficial,” he explains.
“That made me ask, ‘Why does contraception have to be difficult? Why can’t it be delivered to your door, the same way that groceries can be?’ Access to something like the contraceptive pill or the morning-after pill is important for women of all ages and it can be a real challenge in a traditional environment. With Youly, we tried to take a different approach and provide a solution that would fit into people’s lifestyles.”
With over 18,000 Instagram followers, the company is also committed to breaking women’s health taboos and educating people through social media. Nic says that education is more needed than ever, especially when platforms like Instagram still blocks some of the posts related to contraception and sexual health.
“This clearly shows how women’s health and sexual health are sometimes treated,” the founder points out. “We think it’s really important for our brand to lead that conversation and be advocates for women’s health. These are all important aspects that should be spoken about in a public forum and we are glad to have professionals who can help provide that knowledge.”
For Youly, appealing to a younger audience has also meant collaborations with Australian influencers who resonate with the brand such as Maddy MacRae and Leah Williams. “We’ve established a presence for Youly,” Blair adds. “And this makes it easier to outreach and have more people who come to us and say, ‘Hey, I saw the work you did and I would love to be part of this conversation as well’.
“It’s a bit of a snowball effect, but the key thing for us is very much educating the audience and talking about key topics in women’s health, as opposed to pushing adverts into people’s faces.
“We’re about to launch a campaign, called Youly Uncensored, which is working with a group of influencers who talk to their audience about experiences they’ve had accessing health care. Our aim is to become the voice that instigates the conversation and helps women realise that they are not alone.”
According to the company’s research, one in every 233 Aussie women who use the contraceptive pill have been helped by Youly and Nic does not rule out implementing the Australian model in other markets. “All of these are broader health care problems. So, for us, there is a big opportunity not only in Australia, but also internationally, because no one should go without access to contraception.”
So, what’s next for Youly? “Our broader vision for the company is to build a complete health care ecosystem for women,” says Blair. “We’re moving into skincare and we’re also looking at things like sleep treatments, reflux and asthma. In the future, we want to introduce pathology, radiology and specialists referrals, as well as health management programmes for weight management, diabetes and other chronic conditions.
“The longer term roadmap is to bring as many health care products and services into our environment as we can, so that our platform becomes the starting point for managing women’s health, as opposed to something you only go to for treatments.”
With so much success less than two years from the launch, I ask Nic what this means for him, as a founder. “I think getting the validation directly from your customers and realising that you’re actually having a bigger impact on people’s lives is the most rewarding feeling. Being on a journey that truly means something to people is important for our whole team, and also for me as a founder.”
For more info, visit youly.com.au.
The Irish start-up on a mission to help women navigate menopause
identifyHer’s medical device will be able to monitor menopausal symptoms and help clinicians give a better diagnostic
Disease prevention means data. Heidi Davis, co-founder of the Irish start-up identifyHer, tells FemTech World why a medical wearable device is essential in understanding menopause and predicting future disease.
The effect of menopausal symptoms on women’s future health is rarely talked about.
In the UK and Ireland, 3.7 million women are experiencing symptoms that negatively affect their lives during perimenopause and menopause and untreated, such symptoms can lead to chronic diseases.
“Understanding menopause is extremely important to assess the future risks of disease,” says Heidi Davis, co-founder of identifyHer. The Irish digital health company focuses on predictive health services for women going through menopause, guiding personalised management of menopausal symptoms.
“When we started, we realised that nobody knew anything about menopause and that there was no real objective data to understand this life stage,” the co-founder explains. “So, we looked at a range of symptoms that we believed we could capture with a wearable sensor that could identify those physiological changes.
“We collected data from women who were going through menopausal symptoms and we understood that they are the ones who are looking for this information, who need this information and who are desperate to understand what’s going on.”
Along with the American manufacturing company, Analog Devices, the identifyHer team is developing a medical device that uses AI-enabled technology to capture physiological signals and personalise the management of menopausal symptoms to reduce the risk of disease in the future.
“The symptoms women experience [during perimenopause and menopause] can overlap with other symptoms that happen in daily life,” Davis points out.
“For that reason, clinicians find it hard to diagnose and give treatment because they don’t have diagnostic tests that can give a clear image. So, our mission is to help them differentiate those symptoms and provide objective data.”
The identifyHer tracker, which can be used from perimenopause onwards, sits under the breast and is activated by an app. The wearer goes about their business as normal and they will get daily, weekly, and monthly reports on their menopausal symptoms and lifestyle data.
The woman will wear the sensor for three months to track her symptoms and the data collected during that time will be used to initiate or evaluate the treatment she is already on.
The device will not only save clinicians time, but it will also offer them a better diagnostic tool and help them improve and change the treatment accordingly.
“Managing those symptoms correctly can actually set women up for a better future post-menopause because the severity and the frequency of the symptoms themselves are indicators of future risk of disease,” Davis adds.
“Women who seek medical help will be offered our solution and get remote monitoring of their symptoms while clinicians can use it for diagnosis and treatment.”
The device will be regulated both for cybersecurity and data protection and it will first launch in the UK and Ireland, followed by the EU and the US. The company will be working with health insurance companies on a paying claim policy and hopes that with time, the tracker will be integrated into the national healthcare systems.
“It’s been great to be working in women’s health,” the entrepreneur tells me. “It has been challenging, but the overall experience was good.
“We are hoping to close a round of €2.2 million by the end of this year and our aim is to become the gold standard in clinics to diagnose and help women get the right treatment. So far, we’ve had some good conversations and we are moving forward.”
Before we wrap up our Zoom call, I ask Heidi what is her biggest achievement since establishing identifyHer.
“Building the team. We wouldn’t be where we are now, if it wasn’t for the people that have helped us along the journey. It took us a long time to find them, but we knew they were the right people straight away.
“I hope we can continue growing it with as good people as we have now.”
For more info, visit identifyher.ai.
Virtual fertility clinic aims to challenge treatment experience
The world’s first virtual fertility clinic uses AI to maximise the chances of conception
FemTech World meets Caroline Noublanche, co-founder and CEO of Apricity, the virtual clinic on a mission to change fertility care.
Few people know that the world’s first baby to be conceived via in vitro fertilisation (IVF) was born in Manchester in 1978. Since then, IVF success rates have grown from 10 per cent to 50 per cent, according to a report from 2018.
Although the modern use of ultrasound imaging to harvest the eggs under a mild sedation has advanced the procedure, the complexity of the treatment has not changed a lot, says Caroline Noublanche.
“When you can’t conceive, you have to actually give up on the idea that the baby will be born naturally,” the CEO tells me.
“Even though IVF has existed for 40 years, it’s still a very painful process, organised around the constraints of the clinic and the doctor and emotionally, it’s a roller coaster of emotions. On average couples need three cycles, but in some cases they might need more or they might not succeed at all. So, IVF remains uncertain.”
Along with her co-founder, Andrew Berkley, Noublanche came up with the idea of reinventing fertility treatments, and launched Apricity in 2018. “Instead of having to go to a clinic 10 times on average during treatment, we wanted to arrange everything from the comfort of your home,” the CEO explains. “That includes video consultations, but also blood tests, scans, sperm analysis and drug delivery.
“The patients would only have to go to the clinic for two procedures: the collection and the embryo transfer. We also wanted to make the whole process a lot more digital so that the patients can have access to a fertility advisor who can answer their questions, arrange appointments and make sure that when they are short of drugs, they can get a top-up in time,” the co-founder continues.
“We also have a dedicated care team who supervise patients’ treatment and help with early diagnostic. Our two objectives [using the platform] are to deliver the best experience possible for patients and to maximise the chances to conceive through a mix of protocol adherence, treatment efficiency as well as a mix of algorithms and data-driven decisions which are there to help our patients.”
In a virtual clinic, doctor-patient communication is key and with a rise in digital health technology during the pandemic, more and more people are open to remote consultations. “When you have to go to the clinic, it can be quite intense,” Noublanche points out.
“We very much believe that delivering the best experience from the comfort of your home, where your partner can be present as well, can make a huge difference. There are 30 per cent mistakes today in treatments in traditional clinics, because it’s a lot of word of mouth. During a video consultation, however, one of our nurses is able to support the patients, so that they know the exact dose they need, when they need it and subsequently, have a much better product regimen.”
Apricity found that their doctors, nurses and advisors’ relationship with their patients is very different from the one they have in a traditional clinic. Seeing the couple – not just the woman undergoing the treatment – can enable doctors to also observe the dynamic of the two.
“I think COVID has really changed the perception of people on digital health as a whole,” says Noublanche. “Virtually, you’re gaining on aspects such as convenience and doctor-patient quality of the relationship itself. The goal of all of the data [collected] is to make sure that you don’t get a treatment with a one-size-fits-all type of approach.
“We use the data to inform our decisions and to make sure that we better personalise treatment. The customisation also comes from the emotional support we offer and which is extremely important in terms of mental health.”
A fertility predictor is also able to tell patients what their chances to conceive are when following a certain type of treatment. The CEO says that: “We try to show our patients the glass half full because it’s a moment when they tend to be a bit more fragile, but [the predictor] also tells them black on white what their chances are.
“We are also transparent about the costs from the very beginning. What we don’t want is starting a treatment you would think would cost £4,000 and then find out that you have to pay another £1,000 for drugs or additional consolations. Yes, sometimes we lose and sometimes we gain, but we always want to be transparent. I think that’s very important.”
Caroline says the team have big plans for the future, focusing on the expansion of the company beyond the UK. “Our mission is to become the queen of Europe in fertility treatment,” she proudly tells me.
“We are planning to be present in Italy, Germany and in other European countries and continue to deliver the same quality of care and same attention to patients.”
She adds that: “At the moment we already outperform the national average of 61 per cent, so we have amazing success rates. We do everything with a data-driven approach and tech to provide efficiency. What we want is to continue to increase our success rates.
The CEO says that the feedback they receive is what keeps Apricity going and what motivates her, as an entrepreneur. “We often get pictures of new-born babies and that moves us a lot. Even from the people who don’t succeed, we get really amazing feedback on the support that we offer. Our one mission is to help patients live their life while creating one.”
For more information, visit apricity.life.
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