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Texting Service Aims At Keeping New Moms And Babies Healthy

Jeanne Watson and her baby Lilah, who was born in October 2011. Watson says she's gotten some great health tips from the Text4baby text messaging service.
Kenny Goldberg
Jeanne Watson and her baby Lilah, who was born in October 2011. Watson says she's gotten some great health tips from the Text4baby text messaging service.
Texting Service Aims At Keeping New Moms And Babies Healthy
Some 2400 expecting and new moms in San Diego have signed up for a free service that sends out text messages with health tips and resources.

People can use their cell phones to do almost anything these days, from finding a good restaurant, to paying their bills.

An emerging service in San Diego is using cell phones to help mothers-to-be have a healthy pregnancy.

When Jeanne Watson was about six months pregnant, a nurse at the clinic told her about the Text4baby program. Women who sign up for the free service get three health-related text messages per week on their mobile phone.


Watson said she’s sold on it.

"It’s really to the point," Watson explained, "and it just tells you what you should ask the doctor, so you can get an actual answer from a doctor, and not something on the Internet that could be true or not. You can’t just Google everything; you’ll get like 10 different answers."

Watson’s daughter, Lilah, was born a month ago. Text4baby continues to send Watson messages, reminding her about vaccinations and well-baby check ups.

"I always have my phone with me, and I’m always going through my text messages," Watson said. "So even if I forget to read it or something, I can go back and it’s there. And it’s always with me on my phone. Or if I’m at a doctor’s appointment and I don’t remember what it reminded me for, I can just go back.

When a pregnant woman signs up for the program, she enters her due date. Each text message she receives contains health tips and resources, all timed to coincide with either a particular stage of pregnancy, or a particular stage in a baby’s first year of life.


Barbara Mandel directs the San Diego County Medical Society Foundation. She offered a demonstration.

"So the one that I got this morning says flu season is here and we’re checking in with moms," Mandel said, holding up her mobile phone. "Are you planning to get a flu shot this season? Reply 1, yes; 2, no; 3, if you already got it."

In a few seconds, Mandel's phone buzzed.

"Okay, so here’s the response I got back," she said. "Great, the flu shot will help keep you and your baby healthy this season. Would you like to get a reminder to get a flu shot? Reply 1, yes; 2, no."

Mandel’s group leads the San Diego County Text4baby coalition. It’s made up of 40 local non-profits involved in maternal and child health. The Alliance Healthcare Foundation and First 5 San Diego are the organizations that fund the program.

To be sure, there’s plenty of information on maternal and child health available on the Internet. But Mandel said Text4baby is a different way of getting the message out.

"What we’ve learned," Mandel pointed out, "is that are many folks who don’t have access to computers, or don’t use computers often, (may) have a high use of text messaging."

The target audience is young, low-income expectant mothers. The messages are available in English or Spanish.

Text4baby is a national service. San Diego’s free program is one of only a handful that offers local referrals to doctors, clinics, and breastfeeding support. Some 2,400 San Diegans have signed up for it.

Mandel said the concept of using text messaging to encourage healthy behavior is becoming more popular.

"They’ve been using it for diabetes and for some cardiac care as well," Mandel said. "This is the first time that text messaging is being used for getting messages out to expectant and new moms. And we are trying to prove the efficacy of that technique."

San Diego’s Text4baby program is the first to formally evaluate how the service is being used.

UC San Diego gynecologist Yvette LaCoursiere is one of the evaluators.

"So over 60 percent said that the service actually reminded them of an appointment or immunization that they or their baby needed," Dr. LaCoursiere said. "Thirty-eight percent of women actually reported that they used a phone number that they received and called a resource based on the service."

Dr. LaCoursiere said she was initially worried that Text4baby would prompt too many unnecessary calls to physicians.

"What we found, though, is it actually opens a dialog," she said. "Three-quarters of women who used the service said that they’ve learned a piece of information, and they brought that information to their doctor, and started a discussion with them."

LaCoursiere said even some of her fellow physicians who’ve signed up reported they’ve learned something new.

The next step is to find out whether women who use Text4baby have better health outcomes. They hope to have some answers on that front sometime next year.