March 19, 2010

Healthier babies, mothers goal of texting program

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VUSN’s nurse-midwifery practice is using text messaging to update and educate its patients. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Healthier babies, mothers goal of texting program

Patients of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing nurse-midwifery practice have a new way to keep themselves and their babies healthy: text messaging.

The practice is the first in Tennessee to participate in the Department of Health and Human Services “text4baby” campaign, the first free health education program in the nation to use mobile phones.

“We felt that anytime we can give our moms increased education, reach them between office visits and in essence give them helpful information right in their pocket, that would be appealing and helpful,” said Tonia Moore-Davis, M.S.N., R.N., C.M.N., head of the VUSN nurse-midwifery practice.

The School's practice has two sites, West End Women's Health and Franklin Road Women's Center. At the Franklin Road site, in particular, nurse-midwives are focused on decreasing the pre-term birth rates they see among their traditionally underserved, uninsured or underinsured patients.

All of the practice's pregnant women are encouraged to sign up by texting “BABY” to 511411 and will receive up to three text messages each week synchronized to their due date. The messages deal with nutrition, immunization and birth defect prevention, among other topics. Messages start when the pregnant mother signs up and continue through the baby's first birthday.

After birth, text4baby delivers text messages about triggers for post-partum depression, well-child checkups, reminders to see their provider and other prompts — something that is very important since typically only about 25 percent of new moms return to a provider for a post-partum checkup.

The program is based on surveys that show 90 percent of people in the United States, regardless of socio-economic environment, have cell phones. Signing up for the program is free and cell phone providers do not charge for the text4baby text messages.

Messages are available in English or Spanish and are geared toward a fifth grade reading and grammar level.

Studies in Africa, Latin America and India have shown that regular text messages can reduce smoking and other unhealthy behaviors in pregnant mothers.

“If pregnant women and new moms can get these short messages about very do-able behaviors, we hope this can be one more valuable educational outreach,” said Moore-Davis.

The effort is aimed at decreasing the number of premature births.
One out of every eight babies born in Tennessee is premature and nearly nine infants out of every 1,000 in the state die before their first year.

Nationally, there are about 500,000 babies born prematurely and 28,000 infants die before their first birthday.