Technology is making pregnancy smarter, and here's how

From twinges to twilight sickness, many pregnant women feel like they need more support as they become parents. It's smart thinking to consider that pregnant women may need a virtual community. 

Even 15 years ago check-ups with health professionals, trusted pregnancy bibles and anecdotal advice were the limits of guidance, but nowadays apps are bringing support direct to the fingertips of parents-to-be whenever they need it.

There are apps to track baby’s size, apps to count kicks, apps which supposedly check the baby’s heartbeat, and apps to guide on how safe certain foods are for mum-to-be.

So far, so useful. After all, forewarned is forearmed. And whether it’s your first or fifth pregnancy, guidelines change all the time and pregnancies feel different from baby to baby. So perhaps it’s no bad thing to have relevant information at a single swipe. Zoe Bonser, show director of The Baby Show, which returns to the Birmingham NEC on May 17th, certainly thinks so.

“Apps can provide information, reassurance, support and the feeling of being part of a club,” she says. “Whereas previously we would have got this more from family and friends, we are now more reliant on apps.”

And with even the least complicated pregnancy throwing up questions, reassurance is something Elizabeth Hutton, the chief executive of Kicks Count  – an app which helps familiarise parents with their baby’s movements – found people craved.

“Awareness of fetal movement and reporting change in a baby's regular pattern of movement has been shown to reduce stillbirth,” she explains. “However we noticed that all the kick counting apps on the market promoted counting to 10. There wasn't a single app that allowed mums to get to know their regular pattern. That’s when we decided we needed to develop our own.”  

From feedback from users, she’s convinced that the information the app provides reassures rather than overloads parents with unnecessary data.

“We’re all about empowering mums with knowledge and confidence,” she argues. “Previously mums have been told that babies move less towards the end of pregnancy and “run out of room” which is incorrect and may have delayed them seeking medical attention.

Dr Venkat, Harley Street Fertility Clinic

“If we can raise enough awareness about the importance of movements we can eliminate the doubt and give them the confidence to seek medical attention. We would rather a mum sought help when it wasn't necessary, than didn't seek help when it was.”

Helpful though this might be for some, for others the sheer influx of information in addition to midwife appointments and the well-meaning advice from all and sundry might be overwhelming.

“If a pregnancy is low risk then an app could be useful,” says Dr Geetha Venkat, director of Harley Street Fertility Clinic.

“However, if a pregnancy has complications, e.g. preeclampsia or intrauterine growth restriction, then an app could provide incorrect information or cause further worry.

“And if the person is anxiety prone, then an app could make the situation worse.”

Others, however, see the benefit of having support in your pocket.

“Apps are making life easier for parents to be and everyone,” says Siobhan Miller, founder of the Positive Birth Company which has just launched the world’s first hypnobirthing app, Freya.

“They can be such an easy way of keeping track of things, from baby's kicks, to when your period is due and how much you're spending. Unfortunately, I don't know of any apps that alleviate morning sickness.”

Even in the absence of a morning sickness-stopping app, technology can still prove a ray of light for parents-to-be.

“Pregnancy tracker apps can be one of the small joys of pregnancy when you’re struggling in a sea of nausea or crushing tiredness,” says Susie Boone, editorial director of MadeForMums.

“A fascinating way to follow your baby’s development, usefully all on your phone, some offer really nice touches too, such as bump pic trackers and week-by-week baby hands and feet sizes.”

Yet there are drawbacks.

“The jury’s out on whether they make life easier – as they’re yet something else to spend time on, whether it’s finding the perfect pose for bump pictures or inputting milestone data,” adds Susie. “But put the time in and the rewards are definitely worth it.”

While many are a harmless way of tracking changes, it’s worth heeding caution before taking the advice as fact.

Susie Boone from MadeForMums

“No two pregnancies are the same,” explains Susie.

“Pregnancy apps can only represent the average and not an individual experience- and who has an average pregnancy? If your symptoms don’t appear to be in sync with the tracker, we know this can cause unnecessary anxiety – particularly in the early weeks when pregnancy symptoms vary wildly and never seem to follow textbook rules.”

With a wealth of pregnancy apps in the marketplace, finding one with credible sources of information ensures solid advice.

“Apps can be a great way to get information to mums, however as the app market is unregulated it can be difficult for mums to differentiate between the good and the bad apps,” says Elizabeth.

“Having Kicks Count approved by the NHS has been a great way for us to provide reassurance to mums that our app has been tested and the advice is accurate.”  

But no app, no matter how useful, can compensate for the advice of health professionals who know you and your medical history.

“An app is not a substitute for medical advice,” explains Dr Geetha.

“It only provides complementary and supportive information. If you have any concerns, you should always speak with a healthcare professional, particularly if you notice any changes in your pregnancy, such as reduced foetal movements.”

And some apps are altogether to be avoided.

“The problematic apps are the ones that over-promise,” says Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet. “The technology for your phone to monitor your baby's heartbeat accurately simply doesn't exist and anything that claims to provide scans is wishful thinking.” 

With that in mind, treat apps like pregnancies: all are different and need different – tailored – support.

“We know from discussions on Mumsnet that what reassures one mother-to-be could well make another anxious,” adds Justine.

“Ultimately, this is all good training for parenthood: balancing your instincts and your anxieties, occasionally calling for specialist reinforcements, enjoying the little things, and hoping it will all be OK in the end.”

Justine May Mumsnet

The experts’ pick of the apps:

  • Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts says: “Mumsnet's own Pregnancy app uses advice drawn from the real-life experiences of thousands of other parents. It's bite-sized information on the hardest subject you'll ever revise for and it can help parents to feel really connected to their baby before it's even born.”
  • Zoe Bonser, show director of The Baby Show adds: “Bounty has daily articles and fun facts, beautiful 3D images, information and advice on your local birth options and lots more. Others we like are Emma’s Diary, Pregnancy+, What to Expect and Glow Nurture. Also, any apps that help with things like remembering pelvic floor exercises such as Kegel Trainer PFM or the NHS Squeezy app get the thumbs up.”
  • Siobhan Miller, founder of the Positive Birth Company says: “I'd recommend our app, Freya. The world's first hypnobirthing-friendly surge (contraction) timer and virtual birth partner. It’ll coach you through each surge with a simple breathing technique and visualisation.”
  • Susie Boone, editorial director at MadeForMums says: “We love the imaginative apps such as the Baby Story app, a photo-editing app with lots of brilliant graphics that track your bump and then baby milestones. Although it’s a US app, our MFM mums’ favourite pregnancy app is Ovia.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. See more Smarter Thinking content here.

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