Moms-to-be get free advice by text

Nycholle Brown is a single mom living in Chicago whose closest family member lives in Minnesota. So when the 37-year-old real estate agent was going through her first pregnancy, she was pretty much on her own. Like many other first-time mothers-to-be, she flipped through the pages of popular pregnancy guides and searched on Google to find advice. (View Chicago Tribune article here)

But it was her cellphone that really carried her through to the delivery of her son, Mekhi Elijah Ray.Via text messages, Brown received free information each week about her baby's development and needs from Text4Baby. The service has been available in Illinois since August 2010, thanks to the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, which fosters family health care.

"It (is) really helpful, for being a new mom and not knowing what to expect," Brown said. Text4Baby began nationally in February 2010 through the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition. More than 200,000 individuals receive regular texts about pregnancies and babies. In Illinois, more than 9,000 participants receive weekly messages.

Brown's son was born three months ago, two weeks early. Brown recalled one text message that alerted her to the signs of early pregnancy. Because of that message, she said, she realized when she was in labor. Brown said other brief messages alerted her to information about scheduling doctor's appointments and ultrasounds and reminders to take prenatal vitamins and get flu shots. Some messages told her how her baby should be developing. For example, she said at six months she received a text saying that a baby's brain was fully developed and able to hear, so she should play music and talk to him.

Now that Brown's baby has arrived, she receives messages regarding her baby's immunizations, his development and post-partum depression. One recent message read: "Your baby should be able to move arms & legs together, hold her head up & smile at you! Questions about your baby? Call 800-311-2229."Sheila Sanders, project coordinator for Text4Babies with the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, said the service is available to moms, dads and grandparents — anyone who is going to be caring for the baby.

The national coalition negotiated with several mobile phone companies to facilitate the service for free. The service is available by sending a text message to 511411. The sender types in "baby" for messages to be received in English or "bebe" to receive them in Spanish. The sender automatically receives a message asking for the baby's due date or the child's first birthday and the sender's ZIP code.

The short messages, which are sent until the child turns 1, cover nutrition for mom and baby, oral health, exercise, recall information, child-proofing the home, information to quit smoking and how to get help if in an abusive relationship, Sanders said. There also are texts with contact numbers for those who need financial assistance to receive health care and baby items such as cribs.

"Sometimes you don't get everything you need at every (doctor's) appointment," said Sanders, who received messages throughout her own pregnancy. "This information is designed to give you every tidbit of information you need to know." One of the goals of the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition is to help lower infant and mother mortality rates. The texts can also be an efficient tool in reaching today's more transient community and homeless population. "There are many homeless moms who still have cellphones," Sanders said.

And the texts prove useful for fathers who want to be more involved in the pregnancy, according to Janique and Monte Cook of Riverdale. "I thought the messages were very helpful," said Monte Cook, 28, a first-time dad who received the texts about his wife's pregnancy on his cellphone. He said the messages let him know what he should be asking the doctor. The texts also helped him understand his wife's mood changes and understand why they were happening.

After his daughter, Makayla Cook, was born three months ago, he continued to receive texts on how to handle teething and reminders about doctor's appointments and getting whooping cough shots. Janique Cook found comfort in receiving the texts and especially liked that it allowed her husband to be more involved. "Sometimes men feel left out and to me that was a great tool for him," said Janique Cook, 28. "I know it (helps) for women, but it really helped my husband out a whole lot."