NICHD has an important message for expecting moms: if mom and baby are healthy, wait until at least 39 weeks to deliver. In recent months, this message has reached thousands of pregnant women and doctors through a well-coordinated, low-cost public health campaign.
At the heart of the Is It Worth It? campaign is a set of short, patient-focused videos that were shown in more than 300 obstetric and gynecology offices around the country. To help spread the word, NICHD’s National Child and Maternal Health Education Program (NCMHEP) collaborated with partner agencies to promote the videos through their web sites, social media and extensive networks of people interested in pregnancy and infant health.
“If babies are not ready to be born, they end up needing more intensive care,” says Dr. Debra Bingham, vice president of research, education and publications for the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, in the 4-minute video. “The safest for both mother and baby is to let labor begin on its own.”
Many expecting mothers choose the date they want to be induced, often around the 9-month mark. Such pre-term elective deliveries have markedly increased in this country, by about 50 percent over the last 20 years. But pregnancy ideally lasts for 10 months.
“That baby, in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy, is doing a huge amount of developing,” said Dr. Catherine Spong, associate director for extramural research at NICHD, who also is featured in the videos. The brain grows significantly in those last few weeks. And babies born earlier than 39 weeks of gestation have a 20 percent risk of breathing and feeding problems, infection and long-term medical problems.
NICHD’s Dr. Catherine Spong welcomes her fourth child, Beatrice, on Aug. 10, joined by proud big sister Genevieve, who turned 6 the next day.
The Is It Worth It? campaign sends the message that, if not medically necessary to deliver early, it is worth it to wait and carry to full term, as close as possible to the 40-week mark.
“We wanted to take our resources, be thoughtful and figure out the best way to get this message out there,” said Dr. Triesta Fowler-Lee, coordinator of NCMHEP’s Public Communications Branch.
The initial thinking was to create an educational outreach campaign on the dangers of prematurity, but the topic was too broad. “The 39-weeks issue is targeted and specific,” said Fowler-Lee. “It tells providers and patients that these babies are not the same, that there are serious medical consequences when babies are born pre-term.”
The campaign was 2 years in the making. NCMHEP worked closely with its coordinating committee—more than 30 maternal health care provider associations and federal agencies—on content and strategy.
“Collaboration was key,” recounted Fowler-Lee. “We want [our partners] to feel ownership for this campaign so they don’t hesitate to use it.” So they planned and compromised and tweaked it. “Then we knew the product was ready.”
First, NCMHEP wanted to inform doctors, nurses and midwives. So they created a CME—continuing medical education—program in partnership with MedScape, a hub for health care providers. In the 2 years it ran, more than 10,000 doctors and nurses participated in the accredited course. Still more medical professionals were reached via linked web sites and newsletters.
The next step was to address the patient population. A blog and social media rally took place recently and NCMHEP created a web page with banners, posters and an electronic toolkit with key statistics, web buttons and e-cards.
Also on the web site were three versions of the Is It Worth It? video—a 30-second, 60-second and 4-minute spot—which NCMHEP produced in-house. So far, more than 8,000 people have viewed them on YouTube. The videos, which have sparked conversations on mommy blogs, also have made more than 900,000 social media impressions.
The videos also played in doctor’s office waiting rooms as part of Accent-Health’s network of health information channels. This past summer, the videos looped on the monitors of 300 doctor’s offices in 19 states. A major target group was educated, higher-income women, a group more likely to opt for early elective deliveries.
For every mom-to-be, there’s a concerned dad. And don’t forget the grandpas. In a Huffington Post story, NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher, excited about the birth of his grandson, wrote, “As a pediatrician, I knew that in a normal, healthy pregnancy, it’s the baby, not a grandfather, or even the mother, who best sets the delivery date.”
“It is our hope that the campaign will help women make informed decisions concerning the birth and potential outcomes for their child,” said Spong. “These [pre-term] elective deliveries have very serious outcomes and effects on the life of these infants and this is a unique opportunity to empower families to avoid them.”