New Mothers Get Digital Helper Right on Their Phones

The best ideas are those that make you say “I can’t believe we don’t already have this.”

Today, I am happy to report a historic collaboration between industry, the health community and government to bring you something you can’t believe we don’t already have: a free (yes, free) mobile health service for pregnant women and new mothers giving them useful tips timed to their pregnancy or age of baby. 

The service is called text4baby, and it is an educational program of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition.

As a parent of two young children, I can tell you that my family would have signed up for text4baby in a instant. My wife and I wanted to learn as much as possible about pregnancy and the first year of our baby’s life.  I’m thrilled that this service provides a convenient way for moms all over the country to learn this information.  This is particularly important for moms who may not already have access to health information or care.

Here’s how it works: women who sign up for the service by texting BABY to 511411 (or BEBE for Spanish) receive three free SMS text messages each week timed to their due date or baby’s date of birth.  Text4baby messages also connect women to local clinics and support services for prenatal and infant care. 

Here are some things I find most exciting about this program and why it shows that the President’s focus on public-private partnerships is already paying off for the American people:

  • By using text messaging on cell phones, this partnership uses a technology that has already been widely adopted.  Research shows that 90 percent of Americans have a mobile phone, and texting is more prevalent among women of childbearing age and minority populations who face higher infant mortality rates.
  • It provides the information moms need to keep themselves and their babies healthy.  These are short messages, but incredibly important.  The messages focus on topics critical to the health of moms and babies, including immunization, nutrition, seasonal flu, mental health, smoking and alcohol, oral health, and safe sleep.
  • It represents an extraordinary public private partnership – a true “all-hands-on-deck” approach.  There are more than 100 entitites participating in this partnership, so I can’t possibly list them all here.  Founding partners include the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, mobile health platform provider Voxiva, the CTIA Wireless Foundation and wireless providers, Grey Health Group, and Johnson & Johnson.  This program has now attracted private sector media partners, health care plans, academic evaluators, health professional associations, and government partners at every level – local, state, and national.  It’s an incredible partnership.
  • It could help save lives and reduce the number of premature births in America.  More than 500,000 babies – 1 in every 8 – are born prematurely each year in the US.  Premature babies can face lifelong health and intellectual development problems.  The risk of premature birth can be reduced if moms take care of themselves and their babies during pregnancy (e.g. don’t smoke!) and seek prenatal care.  Text4Baby can help by giving moms information and connecting them to care. 
  • It could save America money on health care costs.  This free service could save us money by ensuring moms are connected to health knowledge and services as early as possible.  Catching problems early can help avoid expensive and potentially harmful complications at birth and in the first year of life.  This helps families as well – the average first year medical costs for premature babies are about 10 times greater than for full-term babies.

This is an exciting opportunity for moms and babies, and for our nation. For more information on text4baby, please visit text4baby.org.

Aneesh Chopra is the Federal Chief Technology Officer.

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