'Birthmark,' the First City-Based Initiative to Support Pregnancy, Launches in Miami

A new program to be rolled out in cities across the US looks to improve the health of moms and babies.

Birthmark Pregnancy Health Initiative Lyubov Levitskaya/Shutterstock
The state of health for mothers and babies in the US is not great. The rate of maternal deaths in this country has actually risen over the past couple of decades—we are the only developed country where this happened, and global trends are going in the other direction. Traumatic birth complications have also gone up. And our federal government doesn't look like they're doing much about it. So, a coalition of cities is taking matters into their own hands by pledging to improve conditions for moms and babies.

Led by Miami, the cities will be using a new platform called Birthmark, a consistent set of practices and resources developed by medical experts and policy makers at the mission-driven pregnancy health and wellness company Square Roots. The goal is to improve healthcare for pregnant women at the local level within their communities. "The Birthmark set of services ensures that infants in the womb are being well nourished and protected from substances that can harm them," Judith Palfrey, MD, a national leader in pediatric advocacy and Square Roots' board of advisors co-chair, tells Fit Pregnancy. "Birthmark works to guarantee all mothers safe, properly timed deliveries and excellent care for their newborns."

New programs for better prenatal health

Each city will implement programs tailored to their specific needs, but Dr. Palfrey points out a few broad areas of concern. "One of the biggest national challenges we face today is the opioid crisis that is poisoning babies and driving up healthcare costs," she says. "The Birthmark program is an assurance that cities will make serious commitments to preventing these tragedies." Coalition cities will also look to protect babies in the womb from exposure to smoking and other drugs.

Another goal is to reduce the gap between health outcomes for babies of different races and socioeconomic levels. "In the United States the 2014 non-Hispanic white infant mortality rate was 4.8 per 1000 [births] and the black infant mortality rate was 11.4 per 1000," Dr. Palfrey says. "Birthmark cities should see the disparity disappearing."

Helping moms get the information to make good choices will lead to healthier babies, and fewer healthcare costs. "By ensuring that infants in the womb receive proper nutrition, babies will be more likely to be born at term and at the proper weight," Dr. Palfrey says. "Lack of nutrition for pregnant mothers puts their babies at serious risk of prematurity and long-term problems such as lung disease and delayed development."

And if something should be wrong, new standards of prenatal care can address the challenges early. "For instance, should a mother begin to have pregnancy-associated hypertension or diabetes, these problems will be quickly detected and addressed," Dr. Palfrey says. "We expect to see improved birth weights, decreases in prematurity and decreases in perinatal deaths." In addition, pregnant women "will have excellent perinatal care so that should there be any complications with the delivery, they are attended to immediately," she says.

Local leaders are stepping up

The first city to put the public health initiative in place, Miami is planning a launch event they're calling "Birthmark Day" on June 23. "As Miami continues to focus on the future of our great city, we know one of the most important investments we can make today is in our mothers and infants," Miami mayor Tomás Regalado said in a press release "As is so often the case, lasting progress demands engagement from all. That's why I'm thrilled to work with Square Roots to improve health outcomes for mothers in Miami."

The other coalition cities are yet to be named, but it's expected there will be seven by the end of 2017, with more to come. The mayor of each city will work with a local task force to implement the "Playbook"—evidenced-based programs, tools and research funded and developed by Square Roots. In addition, the cities will also be using the platform to work with companies to establish a better prenatal health standard for employees.

"As a nation, we need to take steps to address our dismal rankings among the developed nations regarding maternal health and infant mortality," former Senator and Square Roots' board of advisors co-chair Olympia J. Snowe tells Fit Pregnancy. "Working with the city of Miami in this landmark partnership is one way of beginning that effort by ensuring the best available information and practices can be disseminated within communities across this nation."

Although we've yet to see how this will actually affect maternal and fetal health, Dr. Palfrey is optimistic—and it's wonderful to see local leaders stepping up in the absence of federal initiatives. "Mothers will have real supports that will decrease the stresses they encounter and allow them to focus their energy on themselves and their pregnancies," Palfrey says. "They will prepare well for the new baby and new family that is being created."