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Expectant Moms, The White House is Calling

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, February 5, 2010

The White House officially moved into the mobile phone health application business on Thursday when it unveiled a free texting service for use by expectant and new mothers.

With the program, at least three text messages can be sent weekly to pregnant women via cell phones—giving them friendly reminders appropriate to their stages of pregnancy on how to keep themselves healthy. The service continues through their babies' first year. The announcement was made by Aneesh Chopra, the White House chief technology officer, during the Health IT Government Leaders meeting in Washington, DC.

The Department of Health and Human Services actually will manage the program in partnership with private sector telecom carriers, Chopra said. The "Text4baby" program is designed to help support understanding about maternal and infant health issues in the U.S., which has "a higher infant mortality than other industrial countries," he said. The messages address such topics as nutrition, immunization, and birth defect prevention.

The goal behind this effort is to curb premature births, which can be caused by poor nutrition, excessive stress, smoking, and drinking alcohol. Roughly 500,000 babies are born prematurely in the U.S. annually, and 28,000 infants die before their first birthday, according to the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, one of the campaign sponsors.

To use the program, women can text "baby"—or "bebe" in Spanish—and then 511411. The women will be automatically signed up for the messages at no cost. As of Thursday morning, after the service was mentioned the day before on the "Dr. Drew" television show, more than 3,400 people had already signed up, Chopra said.

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