On Jan. 19, 2011, a free online counseling service will be available to expecting and breastfeeding moms anywhere in the country through the California Teratogen Information Service (CTIS). During a private instant messaging session, women can get answers to questions such as “Can I color my hair during pregnancy?” and “I’m trying to get pregnant, should I get a flu shot?” Located at www.CTISPregnancy.org, the new service will be available nationwide and offers counseling in English and Spanish.
CTIS, housed at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, now combines a traditional telephone hotline with private instant messaging for women seeking information about medications and other exposures during pregnancy. Women will be able to log on and chat with a counselor directly and privately. Those behind the project hope it will propel the service into the future of communicating with moms all over the world.
"We are excited to use this technology as an option for women who need our services across the U.S.,” said Christina Chambers, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics at UCSD School of Medicine, and program director of CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line. “One of our goals at CTIS is to build on advances in technology to bring our free services to women of all different backgrounds who have questions about the safety of exposures in pregnancy and while breastfeeding.”
The new chat service launch coincides with National Birth Defects Prevention Month, which is honored every year during the month of January. Nationally, some 160,000 babies are still being affected by birth defects each year. Approximately three percent of the babies born each year in California are born with birth defects.
The chat service will be monitored by several highly trained, bilingual (English/Spanish) CTIS counselors who specialize in answering questions regarding medications, environmental, chemical and illicit substances, as well as other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Some of the most common questions pregnant women ask CTIS counselors include:
- “I have allergies, what can I take?”
- “Can I have a glass of wine with dinner?”
- “Do I have to quit taking my antidepressant now that I’m pregnant?”
“This new service will be for women who feel like they don’t have time to call us on our traditional hotline and prefer to use their computer or laptop,” said Sonia Alvarado, a CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line supervising counselor. “This option will be ideal for women who are uncomfortable talking to someone on the phone, although our services are provided confidentially and can be provided anonymously, whether by phone or chat.”
In addition to the new chat feature, CTISPregnancy.org continues to offer a library of evidence-based fact sheets geared for moms and health care professionals. The site also features blogs, news articles, improved forums, and a chance for women to build profiles and exchange information among one other, as well as with experts.
“We’re aiming to make the website as interactive as possible so it's a gathering place for moms and health care providers alike,” said Alvarado.
Questions or concerns from women planning a pregnancy, currently pregnant or breastfeeding can also be directed to the CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line at (800) 532-3749. Outside of California, please call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) at (866) 626-OTIS (6847).
CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line is the California affiliate of OTIS, a North American non-profit dedicated to providing accurate evidence-based, clinical information to patients and health care professionals about exposures during pregnancy and lactation through its toll-free hotline and website, www.OTISPregnancy.org. Nearly 100,000 women seek information about birth defect prevention from OTIS and its affiliates every year.
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