Text4baby: Reaching Pregnant Women & New Moms Where They Are

“If you have any bleeding during the 2nd or 3rd trimester, call your doctor or midwife right away.”

It’s a simple and clear text message that has the potential to change a life. It also illustrates the power of mobile technology to inform, support and connect pregnant women and new mothers with vital health care information.

By delivering free health messages via cell phone, text4baby is tapping into the ubiquity and simplicity of mobile texting to reach women where they are.

Across the U.S., millions of low-income pregnant women and new moms do not have regular access to the latest baby books or the internet’s ever-growing number of health and parenting websites. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t access valuable information. Assistance and connections to care for themselves and their babies may be in the palm of their hand. A woman’s cell phone can offer practical knowledge she needs to give her baby the best possible start in life.

And the need could not be greater than right now.

Through my work for the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB), I am reminded each day that the experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and becoming a new mom can differ greatly among women in the United States. A woman’s access to quality care and resources she needs to take care of her health greatly affects her chances for having a healthy pregnancy and can have lifelong consequences on her health and that of her baby. Many, many women living below what is considered the poverty line do not receive early and consistent prenatal care for a variety of reasons. This translates into expectant mothers potentially putting their health and the health of their babies at risk. Quite simply, this is a crisis.

HMHB launched text4baby in February 2010. In just 10 months, more than 100,000 subscribers have signed up to receive free messages timed to match their stage in pregnancy or the age of their newborn. Women also receive toll-free numbers for federally-funded services and resources. Even in its infancy, text4baby is seeing results.

Anecdotally, we often hear from obstetricians and doctors who report meeting a new patient for an initial prenatal visit after a text4baby message reminds the woman to seek out care. This clip from the MTV show “16 & Pregnant” illustrates how valuable the service is for moms with the lowest knowledge and the greatest need.

Delivering advice based on science to women who need it also means having a presence in communities so that women know about the program and trust it enough to use it. Partners in public health are the lifeblood of text4baby. We rely on them, along with health professionals and advocates, to let women know about the service and encourage them to sign up. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has engaged its team on the ground and is actively promoting text4baby in federally-funded community health centers and through programs like Healthy Start. Our partnership with HHS helps to enhance the credibility of the program and fosters trust. As text4baby expands, new moms will be able to learn about the program in a variety of ways, such as at WIC clinics or through Medicaid, through their employers and at hundreds of locally-based nonprofits or Healthy Start programs. These partnerships and the expanded support from founding sponsor Johnson & Johnson will help us meet our goal of reaching one million moms by the end of 2012.

Text4baby is currently only available in the United States, but we are actively working with our partners to determine the best model for global expansion. Based on this work, we hope to begin making plans to reach women outside of the U.S. in early to mid 2011.

You can help us reach more moms in the United States right now—by spreading the word to your friends and networks. Let them know that women can sign up for this free service by texting BABY to 511411 (or BEBE for Spanish).To learn more, visit www.text4baby.org.

Judy Meehan is the CEO of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, a founding partner and the coordinator of text4baby.

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