Did You Feel That? The Dizzying Rabbit Hole of Live-Tracked Pregnancy

Data-dumping live-tracking pregnancy apps can be intriguing at first, but quickly get overwhelming for some women.

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Feb 11 2015, 11:00am

​Image: ​Thomas van de Weerd/Flickr

​Like so many experiences in life, having a baby has now become completely app-ified. There are apps and gadgets for every stage of pregnancy, from fertility cale​ndars that help you chart the days of the month you're most likely to conceive to apps that let you know how big your fe​tus is each week in relation to fruit.

But while a lot of women are excited to embrace the endless stream of information and advice available at the touch of a finger (one market resea​rcher shows two pregnancy apps are among the top 20 most popular health apps) some say it can get a bit overwhelming. And many wind up using the technology in a way that bears a striking resemblance to how things were done way before the iPhone age: by forming a community with other pregnant women.

Rubina Fillion, a soon-to-be-mom who is due in May, downloaded a few apps to try out, but said she mostly uses one that connects to a forum of other women around the world who are due at the same time.

"That's been really good for helping me keep things in perspective and realize that a lot things that I'm going through are common across a lot of different soon-to-be mothers," Fillion told me.

Screengrabs from the What to Expect When You're Expecting app, one of the most popular pregnancy apps on the market. Screengrab: ​iTunes

I talked to four other expectant moms last week about pregnancy apps and all of them pointed to the online communities as the main benefit. While they said they were excited and intrigued at first, each of the women told me they became overwhelmed by the limitless amount of day-by-day information flooding in from these apps.

"I found it was information overload. I got to a point where I deleted all of the apps and kept just one. It's too much information. I know too much about my own pregnancy," Naveen Atwal, who gave birth 14 months ago, told me.

Instead, Atwal and the other women I spoke to told me they found simply confiding in other pregnant women about their experiences to be far more beneficial. And given the popularity of pregnancy-focused forums like r/bab​ybumps (which has more than 20,000 subscribers), and the What to Expect When You'r​e Expecting groups (which have tens of thousands of members each), it seems there are a lot of women who just want to connect with their pregnant peers.

It's not all that surprising considering this behavior is quite similar to how women have always managed pregnancy, according to Lara Freidenfelds, an expert in the history of reproductive health in America.

She said 200 years ago, women had seven children each on average, compared to less than t​wo on average nowadays. Even 100 years ago, the average was between three and four children. It was pretty hard not to talk about pregnancy.

"If you lived in a community and interacted with people, you were going to see pregnant women all the time," Freidenfelds told me. "It wasn't as if it was a whole group of women who were all three months pregnant and they knew that they were all between 12 and 13 weeks because they signed up at BabyCenter.com, but babies were everywhere because everyone had a lot of them."

She said in those days, women usually helped their neighbors and relatives throughout the pregnancy as well as assisting in the the delivery and care of the baby. By the time a woman was pregnant herself, she would have years of firsthand knowledge about what to expect.

"It wasn't quite as alien an experience, even if they weren't having the kind of detailed conversations that women are having on their smartphones now," Freidenfelds said.

Members of Reddit's r/babybumps community are very candid with one another. Screengrab: ​Reddit

But while sharing and connecting with other pregnant women is hardly a futuristic phenomenon, the onslaught of up-to-the-minute data available about one's pregnancy is a very recent development. New technology allows women to sche​dule, dete​ct, and mo​nitor their pregnancy almost down to the hour—one woman told me there's essentially an entire underground "Mommy ​Web" that you don't realize is there until you're expecting. It can be liberating, but also exhausting, the soon-to-be-moms said. Freidenfelds, a mother herself, told me the wealth of pregnancy data we can now carry around in our pockets can be a double-edged sword.

"There's a certain expectation that you can understand your pregnancy and your child's development minute-to-minute and you lose a sense of perspective," she said.

The women I spoke to told me while the technology is a great tool and exciting at first, it can cause additional anxiety over whether or not everything is going as it should. At some point, it can be better to just unplug.

"Once I got to the point where I knew the pregnancy was viable, I'd forget to check them," Chrissy Marsico, who's due in a few weeks, told me of the apps she had downloaded.

"Once they start to kick, the app is less interesting."

This story is part of Motherboard's Sex Ed Week, a series of sex-focused science and technology stories. Check out more stories here.