Parents from Iowa, along with their infants and toddlers, rallied today in the nation’s capitol with other moms, dads and kids from across the country, calling on Congress to “Think Babies.”

 The effort was called Strolling Thunder. Matt Melmed, executive director of the child advocacy group Zero to Three, says lawmakers need to understand the importance of the early years of life and the needs of parents.

“They need flexible options for paid time to be able to be there, to be able to bond with their babies,” Melmed says. “When they do go back to work, they need to have access to affordable, quality child care.” As our elected representatives are considering a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, Melmed says they need to make the development and health of babies a national priority.

“Parents usually know well before any professional that there may be something not quite right with their baby and they need to be listened to,” Melmed says. “Babies need to get screened and when they’re screened, if there are developmental delays or other concerns that are identified, they need to be hooked up with services as soon as possible.”

Iowa is doing a “great job,” according to Melmed, in being sensitive to the early years of a child’s life. “The Iowa Department of Public Health created a website called Parentivity which connects parents with a rich library of resources that are available in English and Spanish that provide parents with high-quality, evidence-based information to support them while they’re pregnant and raising small children,” Melmed says. “That’s an essential element of providing information and support.”

Melmed says making young children’s potential a national priority benefits the country and impacts everything from economic development to military readiness. He says giving all babies a strong start in life increases graduation rates, improves the quality of the workforce, improves health and reduces crime.