02/21/2013 09:55 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Mobile Messaging: Strengthening the Bond Between Mother and Child

Having health information in the palm of her hand is now possible for Asha Sarkar, a new mother who lives in a slum outside of Dhaka. She is one of the first in her community to sign up for MAMA, a public, private partnership that reaches new and expectant mothers, especially those most in need, with life-saving text messages. These texts convey vital information on how to take care of her newborn, reminders for the child's immunization schedule, and words of encouragement. Last month, together with the Ministry of Health, D.NET launched MAMA Bangladesh, a national program which aims to reach 2 million new and expectant mothers.

In order to reach national scale, from the onset MAMA Bangladesh (known as Aponjon locally) has focused on forming a trust between an unlikely couple: Asha Sarkar and her mobile phone. This bond is critical as Asha Sarkar will need to learn to receive information and act upon critical health information delivered to her not by her doctor, but by her mobile phone. To build this bond, MAMA personalizes messages based on her baby's due date so that mom gets "exactly the right message at the right time." The messages are also written in local language and have undergone significant user testing to address cultural traditions/superstitions that may be a barrier to mass adoption.

While visiting Asha Sarkar in Dhaka, I was struck by her personal testimony of empowerment through these messages. She speaks about an episode where her newborn was not getting enough breast milk and her mother-in-law encouraged her to substitute with milk from the market. As in many households, the mother-in-law's voice is important and often a primary decision maker for a baby. However, a text message had arrived just that morning to Asha Sarkar on this issue letting her know that she can produce more breast milk be feeding her baby more often. Having built trust with the mobile messages she has been receiving twice a week for 40 weeks over the course of her pregnancy, she listened to the text message instead of her mother-in-law. Soon, her baby was getting enough milk through breastfeeding.

Based on her positive interaction with Aponjon, she has recommended the service to her others, and now many in her community are using Aponjon. New and expectant mothers in a neighboring village also learned of the service through her. In a few short months, the service now has over 20,000 unique subscribers.

Johnson & Johnson is a founding partner of MAMA, which aims to reach millions of women like Asha Sarkar around the world through its country programs and adaptable messages. To date over 100 organizations in 40+ countries have accessed the free content created by BabyCenter, in conjunction with MAMA's Health Content Advisory Board. If we can reach mothers throughout the world with trusted health messages, we can make pregnancy, birth, and the first year of life safer for new and expectant mothers everywhere.

This blog is part of an online debate series on mobile health by Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, and in partnership with Johnson & Johnson and the Stanford Social Innovation Review.