Women and children who are residents of certain District neighborhoods can get free basic medical and dental care from the Mama & Baby Bus -- a 30-foot mobile medical and dental facility covered with pictures of babies.

The bus, operated by Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care, serves wards 1, 2, 4 and 5. Kenneth Laorden, the center's clinical director, says the program's primary goal is to reach women early in their pregnancies and encourage them to get prenatal care. The program offers dental care because bacteria and gum disease can cause preterm labor, Laorden says.

A pilot project funded by the March of Dimes, the bus is part of an effort to combat the District's unusually high rates of low-birth-weight babies and infant mortality.

But it also seeks to improve maternal and child health overall by offering checkups, pregnancy tests, HIV tests, dental cleaning and screening and case management services to any woman or child. Since the program began in March, more than 800 children have received immunizations.

Laorden says the bus isn't meant to provide ongoing medical care. The staff wants to reach women and children by coming to their neighborhoods, offering basic services and then connecting them with community services or, as Laorden says, finding them a "permanent medical home."

The Mama & Baby Bus serves wards 1, 2, 4 and 5 in the District. For more information and the schedule, call 202-332-4476.

-- Diane Knich

The Mama & Baby bus offers free care to pregnant women.