Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More county moms sharing tips via the Web

Informational sites by parents, for parents are on the rise

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Rachel Schreiber (left) of Rockville and Jamie Freishtat of Potomac, both doctors, started an informational health Web site for other moms. Their sons are Ben Schreiber, 5, Sam Schreiber, 2, Max Freishtat, 5, and Nate Freishtat, 7.
It all started when Jamie Freishtat and Rachel Schreiber realized that they were becoming the go-to moms for friends in search of health advice for their kids.

The two women, both mothers of two young sons and doctors who first met in medical school, said they often found themselves giving quick tips to other moms while they waited in the preschool carpool line.

‘‘We could help on an individual basis, question by question, but we thought it would be so nice if we could offer information on a broader scale,” said Schreiber, 36, a Rockville resident.

Before long, the idea turned into a Web site: mommydocs.com, a health information site for parents.

Both women agree that the site is far from a WebMD. Rather, it fills a need for moms who have access to good health care and physicians, but who would rather not wake up their doctors at 2 a.m. with what may be a small concern. The site covers topics such as separation anxiety, potty training, allergies and ear infections.

‘‘We’re out there to help give information and to be there for moms — and to give that information from the standpoint of a mom going through it, too,” Schreiber said.

More and more, parents like Freishtat and Schreiber are starting informational Web sites for other parents on everything from health suggestions to household management ideas to religious quandaries. In the Internet age, parents are more likely to be looking for advice from other parents about a variety of topics via the Web, said Patti Cancellier, an education coordinator at the Parent Encouragement Program, a Kensington nonprofit focused on parent education.

‘‘I have seen a great increase in the number of Web sites that parents have to facilitate communication and solve problems – and by and large, I think it’s a great idea,” Cancellier said.

As young parents begin to live further away from their own parents, a traditional source for advice, other moms and dads become an increasingly valuable source of information, Cancellier said.

‘‘The Washington area is such a mobile community, and people are not necessarily living next door to their parents,” Cancellier said.

Keeping the site friendly, accessible and conversational is key, Freishtat and Schreiber said. Podcasts, video and blogs are important elements to the site, which is awash in soothing green tones.

‘‘As people come to our site we want them to feel comfortable looking for information; it’s not overwhelming,” said Freishtat, 36, who lives in Potomac. ‘‘And we offer information in a lot of different forms.”

Montgomery County residents are increasingly launching similar informational sites that foster a community environment. Rockville resident Meredith Jacobs, 40, started modernjewishmom.com when she realized she was fielding a lot of questions from her friends about balancing Jewish religion and culture with the demands of a modern-day life.

The site, which began as a spin-off of a book Jacobs wrote, entitled ‘‘The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat,” has morphed into an online magazine — with advice on everything from celebrating Jewish holidays to keeping organized.

The sense of community that arose between site visitors was an unexpected surprise for Jacobs.

‘‘I feel a responsibility to readers; I feel as though I’ve become friends with them,” Jacobs said. ‘‘It feels like we are all sitting around over a cup of coffee saying, ‘Oh my God, Passover’s coming up, what should we do?’”

Rockville resident Amy Smith, 40, noticed an information gap when it came to looking at motherhood as a full-time job. She started www.businessofmotherhood.com to offer advice from a business perspective that moms can apply to running their homes. Her site offers practical tips, links and downloadable charts to help moms stay organized.

‘‘I think there’s a lot of books and resources out there of interest to moms, like how to get your kids to sleep, but I didn’t see a whole lot out there that would help moms manage the mechanics of the job,” Smith said.

When parents figure out best practices, they become more inclined to give that information to others, Cancellier said. ‘‘Lots of people are really willing to share what’s working for them.”