Monday, September 23, 2013

Baby on Board Badges May Reduce Awkwardness...But Can They Also Increase Safety?

Yesterday many media outlets were thrilled to report that Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge received a "Baby on Board" badge during a visit to the London Underground (the city's subway system).  The badge initiative, first piloted almost a decade ago, was developed after internal research by Transport for London (TfL) showed that pregnant women often felt awkward or uncomfortable asking if they could sit down.  The research also revealed that most travelers believed that mothers-to-be should be offered a seat.  The developers hoped that the badges would give women confidence to ask for a seat and encourage fellow passengers to offer theirs without being asked.

In all the coverage of this initiative, I have (unfortunately) not seen any discussion of evaluation.  The badges are used broadly in London (and other countries like Ireland use them as well).  However, we do not know if they have successfully increased women's confidence to ask for seats or increased a non-provoked seat offer by their fellow travelers.  In addition to these goals, I wonder about how these badges could also be connected to the safety of pregnant women riding public transportation.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting a friend's 11-week old son.  She rode the subway to work all through her pregnancy and we discussed the potential risks that the ride entailed.  While she was comfortable with the ride, her co-workers were often worried about her choice of transportation.  What if she couldn't get a seat?  What if she fell?  What if someone fell into her on the crowded train?  My friend described the experience of having a student's backpack pressed up against her belly late in her pregnancy...which then prompted her to take an alternate mode of transportation to work the next day.

So what if the "Baby on Board" badges could do more than just reduce awkwardness for pregnant women and their fellow passengers?  What if this badge initiative could also reduce the number of pregnant women standing on crowded trains, putting them at risk for falls and other injuries?

First, we would need strong baseline data to determine if a public transportation prenatal injury problem even exists.  Then we would need to evaluate that data during and after the initiation of a badge program in the U.S.  We would also need to evaluate the effectiveness of the badges as a visual cue (e.g., Do passengers recognize the badges?  Do they understand what action they should take upon seeing the badges? i.e.,- giving up their seats).

What do you think?

  • Are you aware of research/studies on public transportation prenatal injury?  If so- please share!
  • For those readers/friends/colleagues that have ridden public transportation while pregnant:  Did you feel at risk for injury?  Did you ever suffer an injury?
  • What do you think about the potential for "Baby on Board" badges to prevent injury?  Are there other strategies that may be more effective?


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