February 9, 2010

Free Mobile Health Service for Pregnant Women, New Mothers Launches in U.S.

Pregnant women and new mothers in the United States are now able to receive health information delivered to their mobile phones by text message at no charge through a public service program by a coalition of mobile phone service providers, health professionals, and federal, state, and local agencies. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) press release explains, “The new program, called text4baby, is a free mobile information service that provides timely health information to women from early pregnancy through their babies’ first year. The service sends important health tips that are timed to the mother’s stage of pregnancy or the baby’s age.”

One of the primary objectives of text4baby is to improve prenatal and infant care by providing pertinent information to pregnant women and new mothers. OSTP says that “in the United States more than 500,000 babies – 1 in every 8 – are born prematurely and an estimated 28,000 children die before their first birthday, a rate among the highest in the industrialized world. Premature babies can face lifelong health and intellectual development problems.”

Providing women with information about prenatal care through text messages will, hopefully, reduce the risk of delivering premature babies. OSTP says that “medical expenses for babies born prematurely average about ten times those for babies born after a full-term pregnancy. All told, premature births cost the Nation tens of billions of dollars—at least $26.2 billion in 2005, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

How does text4baby work? Women who sign up for the service online or 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. The messages focus on topics critical to the health of moms and babies, which include: immunization, nutrition, seasonal flu, prenatal care, emotional well being, drugs and alcohol, labor and delivery, smoking cessation, breastfeeding, mental health, birth defects prevention, oral health, car seat safety, exercise and fitness, developmental milestones, safe sleep, family violence, and more. Text4baby messages also connect women to public clinics and support services for prenatal and infant care.

The OSTP announcement notes that several “U.S. government agencies are involved in the design, outreach, and evaluation of text4baby, and will serve women and babies who learn about their services through the program. These include the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense Military Health System, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Participating carriers include: Alltel, Assurance Wireless, AT&T, Boost Mobile, Cellular South, Cellcom, Centennial Cellular, Cincinnati Bell, Metro PCS, N-Telos, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile USA.” This represents a majority but not all mobile operators in the United States. Approximately 90 percent of all mobile subscribers in the United States are able are to receive the free text4baby messages.

The text messages were developed by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Following message development, they underwent a vigorous review process by several government organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Resources and Services Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office on Women’s Health and the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. Text4baby is an educational program of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB), made possible through a public-private partnership that includes more than 100 entities.

The Gates Foundation claims that 10 million kids under the age of five died in 2005 and the United Nations International Telecommunications Union reported that the number of mobile cellular subscribers worldwide reached the four billion mark by the end of 2008, which represented over 60 percent of the global population. Given these statistics, I see great value in implementing a similar text message system to reduce the global infant mortality rate.


  1. its' a great program. sitting on the board of HMHB, i had the pleasure of helping facilitate texts for it. Birgitta Lauren, expectingfitness.com

  2. Thank you, Birgitta, for your comment and volunteer service with important organizations like HMHB. I am impressed with your business, Expecting Fitness.