Mother and child share a unique bond from the moment the baby’s tiny foot kicks life from within. To ensure they’re kicking until they’re delivered into the world, a new initiative, the “Pregnant and Empowered” campaign has launched, and it's dedicated to educating mothers on prenatal health. The program was unveiled right before Mother’s Day as a gift for mommies-to-be, designed to minimize the risks associated with premature labor and stillbirths.

“There is something we can do to help moms have safer births,” the CEO of First Candle, Christopher Blake, said at the Pregnant and Empowered campaign launch. He joined the nonprofit organization, which aims at ensuring safer pregnancies, in an effort to increase survival rates of babies within their first years of life. “Giving women a voice is important. If women can’t find their voice and speak about what’s going on with them, there’s a lot of danger that could come from that.”

Experts believe it starts with stillbirth: “the conversation no one wants to have,” according to Blake. This month marks the first time stillbirth has been included as an agenda at the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Stillbirth still stands as a significant issue in the United States. One out of every 160 pregnancies ends in fetal death after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to March of Dimes.

“Dollar-for-dollar the most important thing we can do is watch fetal movement and count kicks,” Blake said, quoting Dr. Ruth Fretts, an OB/GYN and reproductive biology professor at Harvard Medical School, at the pregnancy symposium. The new campaign provides charts for pregnant women to count their baby’s kicks every day during their last trimester. By counting kicks, the mother is able to receive mood and health messages by tracking their normal movement pattern. It’s one of the few forms of the communication baby has, and no one else will know it better than mom herself.

“The problem is when people present providers with decreased fetal movement into any labor unit, it’s like the roll of a dice,” Fretts said. “If you happen to believe it’s important, then you’re going to get more care, and if you’re given a provider who happens to think it isn’t important, then you’re going to be sent home. It’s really a missed opportunity to evaluate and say, ‘OK, this is a risk factor.’”

Reduced fetal movement (RFM) is a medical symptom, similar to if your glands are swollen — they indicate something is wrong. When the baby moves less, it should serve as an alarm to mothers who need to see their provider in order to ensure the baby is still healthy and OK.

Sometimes the baby’s simply sleeping, or the mother’s own maternal stress, sleep patterns, or nutrition choices are the cause. However, in more dire situations there could be a premature rupture or leak in the amniotic sac that holds the baby, or another possibility is there’s a blood clot in the umbilical cord, which transports food and nutrition to the baby. Mothers therefore need to listen to their baby and become their voice until they’re old enough to have their own.

Currently, the “nuMoM2B Heart Health Study,” which is still in clinical trials, is tracking sleep position, sleep disordered breathing, and the cardiovascular health and pregnancy outcomes. Fretts believes physician knowledge will improve along with new parents who can learn what’s best for the baby and mother during pregnancy.

Becoming Baby’s Advocate

“There’s a lot of conversation around stillbirth — improving outcomes, prevention, the bereavement component — but no one really ever talks about how we can empower women,” said the co-founder of Action for Stillbirth Awareness and Prevention Coalition Debbie Haine Vijayvergiya, who lost her own baby in 2011 to stillbirth at 28 weeks.

Her life’s work became safe pregnancy advocacy. Within the three years after Vijayvergiya delivered her lifeless baby girl, she studied the political process, learned the steps it took to draft legislation, and watched New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sign the Autumn Joy Stillbirth Research and Dignity Act. The law, named after the daughter she lost, requires the state to establish policies to ensure dignified and sensitive management for each stillbirth, along with providing consultation, psychology, and social work resources.

“From the minute that you take a pregnancy test and you see that it shows up positive, your inner advocate is born,” Vijayvergiya said. “It manifests in different ways. Suddenly you say, ‘Can I eat that? Should I drink that? I should go to bed at this hour now’ or ‘I shouldn’t go skydiving this weekend.’ Suddenly you are thinking about someone other than yourself. There’s other larger ways that it can manifest and in order to empower women and become an advocate for a child, she also needs to understand she is entitled to go to her doctor when she has concerns. But it all starts with knowing your baby and counting their kicks.”