The Digital Era: From pre-pregnancy to newborns
In honour of it not only being Mother's day (in the UK), but additionally my first Mother's Day as a new Mother, I thought I would take the opportunity to write about my experience of pregnancy and after with regards to the tools, apps and sites I used to get this far (and am still using!)
I'll break this down into four sections:
Conception There are many apps out there to help a person or couple track their cycles and habits whilst trying for a baby. After some research I decided on the Ovia Fertility App, which allowed me to track my monthly cycles, symptoms and variables that may affect conception, such as the amount of sleep, caffeine, alcohol and exercise a person is getting. The app is really straightforward and easy to use, it provides tips and supportive messaging throughout and, well, we have a baby, so it worked for us!
Pregnancy This is the space that I suppose up to this point I spent most of my time in so far! Prior to being pregnant and working in the agency world, particularly with bloggers and forums etc, sometimes you can get put off of sites and platforms - such as Mumsnet - which I thought I would leave for other people. However, from the minute a woman finds out she's pregnant, her entire life has to change then & there (well, depending on her lifestyle and mine definitely had to change! No more boozy client dinners and award ceremonies, more sitting on the couch and trying to stay sane, and awake!) So I did what a lot of first-time pregnant women do: I Googled*.
As I sat on the couch with my water and thought how much longer nights felt without a glass of wine, I came across a group on Mumsnet that were all due in January 2016, as I was, so I did what any sensible person would do - started stalking them. This group was an amazing resource from day 1. If I was going through a weird symptom and would start freaking out, wouldn't you know, a handful of other people were people having the same symptoms and my mind was put at ease.
Then it happened: Mumsnet got hacked! And then hacked again! And again! Needless to say this ordeal freaked out a lot of the people using the site on a regular basis, as well as password issues there were bugs to the mobile app and many members of the group couldn't access the site for days and days.
Interestingly, from a digital perspective, this has been an amazing insight into how other non-pure digital folks use sites, forums, technology and social media - but that's for another post.
The hacks eventually moved the group to decide that they would move to a secret Facebook group - but this posed a problem (that I won't go in too deeply as per my previous comment - for another post!) - people had to be open about who they actually were! There was something quite liberating about posting under a handle and Facebook meant people knowing who you really were, and the fear of a post accidentally going out publicly - especially in the first three months when most people are keeping it a secret. My issue - I had to out myself and go from being a very grateful stalker to an engaged member of the group.
The Facebook group has ended up being 58 women, 20 - 40+, first time to five-time mums, from the UK and even one from Australia! It has been a lifesaver for me and others and a genuine place to ask advice, vent, share and real friendships have been formed.
If I could give any advice to a newly pregnant woman - don't shy away from groups like these. Not only do you form bonds, but you receive support that you'll struggle to find elsewhere from people going through exactly what you are going through and as supportive as your partner, family and friends are, it's just not the same. Plus you have a ready made group of people to chat with when you're up half the night! Mumsnet have launched an updated app that is pretty slick and easy to use.
With regards to apps during the pregnancy, there were two I used. I decided since the Ovia conception app was so good, I would use the Ovia Pregnancy Tracker. Again, the app was very user friendly and consistent with it's sibling. Each week you received a message telling you what fruit/vegetable size your baby was (though sometimes it seemed a bit confused), tips for a healthy pregnancy, what you should be doing, expecting etc. It provided a way to track notes, milestones, pictures, anything really. It does use US terminology which some people might struggle with, due to different approaches to pregnancies in different countries (gynecologists versus midwives/NHS, foods you "can" eat depending on country etc).
Farther along into my pregnancy I was alerted to the Mumsnet Pregnancy Tracker, which I have to say has a very nice user interface and I added it to check in addition to the Ovia app. It also ties back into conversations on Mumsnet quite nicely.
Two other apps that I didn't use all the time, but worth a mention are: CineMama: this is an app where you can take a picture every day/week/as often as you want of your pregnancy and create a video at the end. There are other features you can use as well. Would be worth one of the pregnancy tracker apps just combining this app into their platform.
Tiny Beats: this is an app, that allows you to hear and record your baby's heart beat! It's actually truly amazing that we have gotten to this point in technology that you can use your mobile phone to listen to your baby's heart beat. Bear in mind that it really only starts working around 30 weeks, so don't freak out if you don't hear anything before then, if you do, it's just a bonus. I can't actually find a link to it any longer, so I'm not sure it's still available in the app store - it links out to the NHS Pregnancy+ app.
Labour We only used one app after doing some research and that is an app called Full Term, which allows you to time your contractions (it's also a kick counter, but I never counted kicks, so haven't used that feature). Trust me, after labouring 12 hours home alone, this app was invaluable. You could easily press the button when they started & stopped and it does all the hard work for you. The data you can get is, of course, exciting, but also it meant that we knew the average of how often my contractions were coming, how long they were lasting as well as their average over various amounts of time - very useful information when you are speaking to the hospital or trying to decide what stage you are at etc.
Newborn Which brings us to now! Our little one is currently 5 weeks old and I am now using two apps: Sprout Baby: I use this app all day and night, every day and night. People often think I'm a bit over the top, but as this is my first child and I'm breastfeeding, I find the tracking extremely useful. I currently use the app to track feed times, duration and which side, nappy changes - how often and what type, sleeping times, days I bath him, and pumping tracker. Just the ability to find out which side you last pumped on is actually very useful when you are running on a few hours of sleep!
The data helps me through the long nights (love the data collected in this app!) I am able to look back as far as I've been tracking and see if there is any consistency to what he's doing yet (not REALLY at 5 weeks, but sometimes...) and on those occasions where it seems like he was up a similar time the two nights before, I can make an educated guess on how much sleep I might get before he needs to feed again - and that helps calm me.
You're other half can also download the app and you can connect the app so you can both track all the activities - useful if you're sharing lots of the doing.
The one downside to this app for me is that it drains my battery. I have it installed on an iPhone 6, with the most recent version and iOS version, but I still have to charge my phone twice a day. It uses 51% of my batter (whereas, for example, Facebook uses 14% and Instagram 12%...) I hope this is something they look into improving in a release soon, as I'm sure just saying that will put quite a few people off.
The Wonder Weeks: This app is used by many parents and you'll probably find out about it when you hear someone mentioning their baby/child going through a 'Leap'. This app uses your child's due date to calculate when they'll be going through various developmental stages during the first 18 months of so of their lives.
The app includes a chart letting you know when you can expect your child to be in a really bad/grumpy/upset mood and when they'll most likely be a delight. Not that all children are the same, however it does give you a bit of reassurance if you can't figure out why your baby's behaviour has changed, and you read that they are going through a stormy phase, as their brain is growing. Then you also know there will be an end to it and you can repeat the first time mum mantra - this too shall pass, this will get better!
*I should probably point out that by far, above and beyond any of these apps and sites, Google has received the majority of my attention. Dr. Google as it gets affectionately called in the forums. The trick is to learn when to Google something and when to let it drop, as it may cause you more mental harm than good - and use Google image Search during pregnancy & new baby months at your own risk!
Overall, I must say that I have found the use of technology, apps, social networks and the like to be an invaluable part of my pre-during-post pregnancy and will continue to engage in the Facebook Group and will probably add to the app collection throughout the years of our child's life. While I know people have been having babies for thousands of years without such tools, the millennial, digital, tech loving me has been not found them incredibly useful, but they've also helped maintain my sanity.
Any questions, feel free to get in touch and ask - I'm sure I have an opinion on how to be pregnant and/or a new mum - it seems to be a birthright that comes with having a baby!
ps - sleep while you can, and don't worry, because it's all worth it...