March of Dimes

March of Dimes: Helping Moms Have Healthy Babies

The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping improve the health of mothers and babies around the nation. A big part of their work involves preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. For moms thinking about becoming pregnant, or who are already pregnant, the March of Dimes offers a wealth of information and programs that can help.

March of Dimes History

Established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP), the March of Dimes was initially tasked with helping to support and care for people with polio. Scientists and volunteers helped fund research for a new polio vaccine while helping victims through physical rehabilitation. During the Depression, the polio epidemic got worse, and the president appealed to the public for help. At a fundraiser, celebrity singer Eddie Cantor urged the public in a joking way to send dimes to the president, coining the term March of Dimes. Soon the White House was flooded with 2,680,000 dimes and thousands of dollars in donations.

March of Dimes Works Toward Preventing Birth Defects

The March of Dimes went on to support the research of Jonas Falk and Albert Sabin, who eventually developed the polio vaccines that ended the epidemic in the U.S. in the 1960s. With polio defeated, the organization turned its attention to preventing birth defects and infant mortality. They continue to support research into birth defect causes, promote prenatal testing, and educate healthcare professionals and the public about factors that contribute to healthy pregnancy. Starting in 2003, the March of Dimes again expanded its mission to raise awareness and find the causes of premature births.

March of Dimes Local Programs

At the local level, the March of Dimes supports programs run by volunteers that provide information and services designed for preventing birth defects and promoting healthy pregnancies. A few such programs include:

  • Centering Pregnancy focuses on getting quality prenatal care to more women regardless of race.
  • Baby & Me: Tobacco Free is a counseling program that helps pregnant women quit smoking and stay tobacco free after the birth of their babies.
  • Comenzando Bien helps pregnant women learn about healthy pregnancies in a group setting. The program is available in English and Spanish.
  • 9 Matters! Teen Education strives to provide prenatal health education to as many pregnant teens as possible.
  • The Coming of the Blessing works to reduce the high rate of infant death and premature birth among American Indian and Alaska Native babies.
  • Mission: Healthy Baby offers military families education on topics like relieving stress to staying healthy during pregnancy.
  • NICU Family Support provides information and comfort to families with a baby in a newborn intensive care unit.

In addition to supporting local chapters that are helping moms around the United States, the March of Dimes supports global programs in other countries to help improve the health and care of babies through education, awareness, and parent organizations.

March of Dimes Research

As part of their ongoing mission, the March of Dimes continues to support research aimed at preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. Programs in progress now include research on:

  • A cytomegalovirus (CMV) vaccine—CMV causes birth defects in 8,000 babies each year.
  • Prematurity genes—recent studies have found that genetics can contribute to premature birth.
  • Birth defect causes—recent research has found that genes can cause certain heart defects, but the gene mutations necessary to set the defect in motion may be caused by other genetic or environmental factors.

March of Dimes research has lead to many scientific advances and 13 Noble Prizes. Critical breakthroughs include improved prenatal testing to detect sickle cell anemia, discovery of the genes for Marfan and Fragile X syndromes, and development of treatments for respiratory distress syndrome.

March of Dimes Advocacy

In addition to supporting education, local programs, and research, the March of Dimes works to improve public policy to support the health of moms and babies. For example, they work together with other key health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics to fund prenatal testing that includes newborn screening. Newborn screening provides early detection of genetic, metabolic, and functional conditions and potential abnormalities, which can lead to early treatment in many cases. The organization also advocates for health care reform and public health programs designed to improve maternal and child health.

March of Dimes Education

Moms looking for information on pregnancy, giving birth, potential complications, or any topic related to having a baby can find information through the March of Dimes and their online website. Health experts are available to answer questions, and new dads will also find information tailored specifically to them.

Education resources are also provided for medical professionals, including information on newborn screening and genetics, prenatal statistics, resources for patients, scholarships and grants for continuing education, and print and online educational modules