Photo, from left: Count the Kicks co-founders Tiffan Yamen, Kate Safris, Jan Caruthers, Janet Petersen and Kerry Biondi-Morlan.
There’s no question Jan Caruthers’ work benefits co-workers and customers alike on a daily basis.
But it’s what the Hy-Vee training supervisor does in her free time that changes lives.
The stillborn delivery in 2003 of her daughter, Jayden Renee, broke Caruthers’ heart, but it also sparked an intense desire to help others.
She soon befriended four other Iowa women who had faced similar tragedies. The group started by passing a stillbirth registry in Iowa. Soon they learned about research in Norway that reduced the overall stillbirth rate by one-third when expecting parents were taught to monitor their baby’s movement in the third trimester. They formed a nonprofit organization, Healthy Birth Day, and created the Count the Kicks campaign to prevent their collective pain from affecting other families.
This public health campaign offers brochures, posters, how-to videos and lesson plans for childbirth educators. They also developed a free app that is available on Google Play and iTunes. This app allows expectant moms to monitor their baby’s movements, record kick counting history, set a daily text or calendar reminder, count for twins and is available in English and Spanish.
The app is used by expectant mothers in their third trimester to record the number of times their babies kick during a set time period every day. The idea is to quickly identify any decrease in movement, which can signal a serious problem.
“I lost my daughter, Jayden, to a cord accident two weeks before her due date,” Caruthers said. “She was beautiful. At that point in time, there was no education or materials on the importance of tracking and being aware of your baby’s movements.
“This is where Count the Kicks filled that void, and that is what makes me proud.”
The app was recently credited for saving little Ruby Eekhoff of Waukee. On May 30, her mother, Emily Eekhoff, used the app to detect a troubling decrease in Ruby’s movements. Emily went to the doctor and further tests showed Ruby was in distress. After an emergency delivery, doctors told Emily the umbilical cord was tightly wrapped around her baby’s neck three times. Ruby stayed nearly three weeks in intensive care, was able to join her family at home.
“We’re really thankful. We weren’t expecting it, but we’re so glad that they had things in place to catch it,” Eekhoff told a TV reporter.
Caruthers says Ruby’s story confirmed what she and her Count the Kicks founders already knew.
“It is the reason we founded the organization. I am extremely joyful. I ‘happy cried,’” she said.
Advocates say the program’s popularity in Iowa might be part of the reason the state has seen a 26 percent decline in stillbirth rates over the past five years, taking Iowa from 33rd worst stillbirth rate, to third lowest; while the rate in the rest of the country has remained steady.
Caruthers says Count the Kicks aims to reduce national rates by the same 26 percent, or 6,000 children. Currently, approximately 24,000 babies are stillborn each year in the United States. Count the Kicks now has “ambassadors” in 18 states to help raise awareness.
“I want everyone to know about Count the Kicks, because we all have the power to save a baby just by sharing our message,” Caruthers said, calling it “a great way to bond with your baby and to be in touch with your baby’s well-being.”
“It is simple, free and can be done anywhere, by anybody,” she said.
FOR MORE INFO OR TO GET THE APP: Available for free at Google Play and the App Store, and at countthekicks.org.