American mothers – especially lower-income women – experience a disturbing rate of pre-term births.
A premature or “pre-term” birth is one that occurs at least three weeks before a baby's due date ... less than 37 weeks – full term is about 40 weeks.
More than 500,000 babies (one in eight births) are born prematurely every year, which is a 30 percent increase in “preemies” since 1981.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, key prevention tactics against premature birth include good maternal diets, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, controlling blood pressure and diabetes, guarding against infections, and making regular doctor visits.
Recent findings suggest that babies deprived of healthy nutrition before birth are more likely to become overweight and develop diabetes – even in childhood – and to develop high blood pressure in adulthood.
After birth, protective measures for babies include breastfeeding, immunizations, “well baby” doctor visits, safe sleeping positions, and frequently touching, holding, and talking to infants.
A new “text4baby” program gives mothers easy instructions to increase the odds they will deliver a full-term, healthy baby and keep their child healthy.
Free text-message service targets new mothers and babies
Since last spring, more than 135,000 pregnant and new mothers have subscribed to “text4baby” … a free text-messaging service created by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, with support from corporate sponsors and cell phone carriers.
Women who sign up for the service by texting BABY (or BEBE in Spanish) to the number 511411 receive free text messages every week, timed to their due date or their baby’s date of birth.
Text messages give moms important reminders about doctor’s appointments and vaccines; share tips on nutrition, sleep, and other important topics; and provide referrals to prenatal and infant services.
Once a new or expectant mother signs up for the program, she will receive texts such as these:
Omega-3s in fish may help your baby’s brain & eyes to develop. Up to 12 ounces of light canned tuna, shrimp, or salmon each week is safe to eat.
Get your baby off to a great start! You can help your baby’s development by taking a prenatal vitamin each day. It should have 600 mcg of folic acid.
Your baby needs calcium to build healthy teeth & bones. Good sources of calcium are low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt & hard cheese (like cheddar).
Program gets public/private push
The program was formally announced a year ago by the White House, which has encouraged public and private agencies to promote it. Currently, there are more than 500 organizations involved.
The Department of Health and Human Services is championing the service through state health agencies and federally funded health centers, and the USDA, which oversees the WIC maternal-child nutrition program, disseminates information about text4baby through its offices across the country.
Many other government branches participate, including the Department of Defense, which is evaluating the program’s impact on military families.
In some states, women learn about text4baby when they apply for Medicaid. In New York City, every birth certificate advertises the program.
Information reaches mothers in all 50 states in other ways, too: through libraries, churches, billboard ads, health care providers, employers, health fairs and networks like the American Academy of Pediatrics.
And text4baby was recently featured on the MTV reality TV show, “16 and Pregnant.”
This program seems like one of the best outcomes of the texting age … one we support and applaud!
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Premature Birth. Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/features/PrematureBirth/
- National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB). Text4baby messages. Accessed at http://www.text4baby.org/