Kaiser Permanente is testing a free texting service that’s designed to support parents during the first year of their child’s life. The brief messages are sent to parents two to four times a week. They were originally designed for use nationally, but Kaiser Permanente pediatricians tailored them especially for East Bay members. They include tips for caring for babies and suggestions for encouraging early brain development through activities such as talking, reading, and singing to the little ones.
For example, one text offers a link to a short video about how to safely bathe a new baby, and another offers tips to parents who have quit smoking — to help them stick with it. Yet another suggests word play “using baby’s name in a fun way while chanting or singing Emma Zemma Bemma or Jacob Wakab Bo Bakab.” Many of the videos were created by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street and a partner of the Text4baby service.
Text4baby launched in the East Bay service area in May, and as of September, more than 300 Kaiser Permanente members were taking part. Pediatric Department receptionists and medical assistants encourage members to enroll during well-baby visits, and parents can stay enrolled until their baby’s first birthday.
“We’re pleased to offer new parents in the East Bay an opportunity to try out Text4baby — one more way for us to share information about their babies’ health and development,” said Sherry Novick, managing director of Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit programs in Northern California.
Can Text Messaging Help?
While the service helps parents with tips and reminders, it’s also an opportunity to test how members react to educational and supportive text messaging. Kaiser Permanente pediatrician Pelly Fan, MD, is the physician coordinator for the pilot.
“We have in-person support through visits with pediatricians and lactation nurses, baby-and-me support groups for new parents, and our online newsletters,” Dr. Fan said. “Now we’ll be able to see if text messaging helps.”
Text4baby is the second phase of a Kaiser Permanente East Bay pilot program focused on promoting the importance of early brain and language development. The first phase, called Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing, was a partnership with The Opportunity Institute, which is promoting Talking is Teaching in communities across the country to encourage parents and caregivers to talk, read, and sing to their children from birth.
Over the course of the initial one-year pilot that ended in March, Kaiser Permanente East Bay pediatricians and family medicine physicians spoke with parents during well-baby visits about being their child’s first teacher. They also gave parents more than 5,000 Talk Read Sing tote bags stuffed with books, a sing-a-long CD, and other items designed to help them boost their babies’ early learning and development.
Text4baby is another opportunity to try something new with Kaiser Permanente members. It’s a chance to see if parents find educational and supportive text messages helpful as they navigate the critically important first months of their babies’ lives.
East Bay Associate Public Affairs Representative Gabriella Areas contributed to this article.