Despite technological advances in health care, the United States ranks 130th countries for preterm births and 41st for infant mortality, placing it in the same category as developing countries in Africa and Latin America.
Each year, more than 500,000 U.S. babies are born prematurely and about 28,000 die before their first birthday.
And Georgia ranks in the bottom 10 states on preterm births and infant mortality.
A new program, text4baby, aims to improve these statistics.
Text4baby provides pregnant women and new mothers with information about their health and their babies’ health through text messaging. Women can sign up for this free program — which is available in either English or Spanish — by providing their due date or the baby’s date of birth.
Women will receive about three text messages per week with accurate and timely health information about a variety of topics, ranging from prenatal care to mental health to immunization, as well as resources such as reminders of milestone appointments, until the baby’s first birthday.
The U.S. surgeon general recently praised this use of technology. “Text-messaging is a part of the culture in terms of how we communicate,” said Dr. Regina Benjamin. “Using text-messaging to help conduct outreach to families about health coverage for their children is just one more way that the appropriate use of technology is enhancing how we make sure pregnant women and children get the health care they need.”
Dr. John R. Lue, chief of the Section of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical College of Georgia, said the concept of the program is good and feeds well into the emerging field of telehealth, in which patients have more involvement in their health care.
Text4baby, though, is not without some challenges.
Since it is a new program, a large majority of patients are not aware of it.
“There needs to be champions of it at different institutions to make sure that all of the providers in the area know about it and promote it to their patients,” said Lue.
In fact, the infant mortality team within the Maternal and Child Health section at the Georgia Department of Public Health is already working with local public health departments and other partners to raise awareness of the program, and is also customizing the messages for Georgians.
Those who do use text4baby love the appointment reminder part of it.
Lue says text4baby, which is basic information, will be a more useful tool for new or young mothers than for those who have already had children or have time and resources to research information on their own.
Another challenge is access. Although the program itself is free, a few mobile providers do not participate in text4baby, and some patients may not own a cellphone. Lue says there is potential for physicians’ offices or other institutions providing cellphones that would allow only text messages from text4baby.
Lue concludes that text4baby is a “worthwhile program that speaks well to decreasing premature deliveries by giving those women at risk a tool for a healthy pregnancy.”
Text4baby, launched by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, is made possible through a public-private partnership that includes government, corporations, academic institutions, professional associations, tribal agencies and nonprofit organizations. Johnson & Johnson is the founding sponsor. For more information about the program, visit www.text4baby.org.
Deesha Patel is an ORISE Fellow at the CDC. She is interested in health communications and translational public health research.