Motherhood: There's An App For That

How cell phones make parenthood better (or worse)


I have a friend who communicates like she's still living in the 70's. She doesn't carry a cell phone, doesn't Facebook, rarely checks email and only occasionally listens to the tape-recorded messages on her answering machine. If someone needs to get a hold of her, they page her, catch her when she's standing by her kitchen phone or leave a note on her backdoor.

This friend is no hippie. In fact, she's a highly skilled midwife who shares the most technologically equipped delivery rooms with parents who are tethered to their smart phones, iPads and video equipment. They document their babies' lives from the moment they pee on the pregnancy test. As soon as their baby is born (and sometimes before that), their child's photograph is posted on social media sites and uploaded onto computers all over the world; all before my-friend-the-midwife has finished delivering the placenta.

My friend doesn't want to be available and accountable 24/7. She doesn't want everyone to have full access to her life. She likes the world the way it used to be. Some think my friend's archaic communication style is crazy, but she'd argue we're diluting our ability to be present to our real lives because we're always attending to our virtual ones. When you see how parents divide their attention between their kids and their phones, you have to wonder if she's right. Are we missing out on special moments because of our phones? Does a father who's videotaping and posting his son's birth feel the same overwhelming shock and awe as fathers have throughout history if he's experiencing that miracle through a lens, distracted by technology? I'm not sure, but its not likely cell phones are going anywhere.

Parents and phones are such a natural combination today that major corporations, healthcare and humanitarian organizations are using them to communicate directly with new parents and not just to sell them stuff. In fact, a few programs are pretty exciting and innovative. For example, Johnson & Johnson (yeah, the ones who make all those baby products lining your nursery shelves) has teamed up with the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition and launched text4baby, the first free health text messaging service in the U.S. Their goal is to help more pregnant women and new moms get information about their health so they can give their babies the best possible start in life. Since more than 500,000 babies are born prematurely and an estimated 28,000 children die before their first birthday each year in the U.S., they're hoping to make a positive impact on some of the factors like health care access, poverty, and negative health behaviors and help people stay healthier. Text4baby sends 1 to 3 text messages, (which are customized and timed to Mom's due date) per week to parents who register for the free service (which won't impact their text/data plans) So far 323,000 people have enrolled to receive messages about prenatal care, labor signs, breastfeeding and crucial newborn information. Here are a few examples of texts parents might receive:

  • "Regular checkups help keep baby healthy! Take baby for her next checkup when she's 4 months old. For free or low-cost care, call 877-543-7669."
  • "Your baby may like tasting new foods. But no honey, peanuts, tree nuts, fish or shell fish until after 1 year or later. These foods may not be safe."
  • "Whooping cough is spreading in your state & can make babies sick. Parents, siblings & grandparents can help protect Baby by getting a Tdap shot." "Talk to your doctor about the Tdap shot. More info from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: or 800-232-4636."

Sign up for text4baby online or text the word BABY (or BEBE for Spanish) to the number 511411.

The US is slightly behind the developing world in the use of cell phones to delivery health care information. In the developing world where a family might not have running water or electricity, chances are good they have a cell phone. They might not have access to prenatal care or live near a safe hospital, but they can get text messages. In some places, the bulk of their prenatal, newborn and postpartum education comes through their phone, text by text. Without this, they might not know the warning signs for preeclampsia or hemorrhage. Healthcare providers who go out into communities may be armed with only a few supplies and limited experience but they'll have cell phone access to experts and software to help them provide vital care.

In Rwanda, CARE (a global humanitarian organization) collaborated with the government to launch a mobile phone framework to increase maternal/newborn health coordination and communication. In India, they're working with a technology partner to develop protocols and algorithms on mobile devices for birth planning and antenatal care, delivery, and post partum care. In other developing countries they're working with partners to conduct cell phone-based antenatal and postnatal visits according to a checklist. Trained birth attendants using cell phones to make referrals to health centers and hospitals and to arrange emergency transport during obstetric and neonatal emergencies. It's genius. We couldn't do that back in the seventies.

I think my-friend-the-midwife makes some very valid points about how cell phone dependence separates us from our real lives and real person-to-person communication. But as a woman who lives with her phone in her hand, I can't imagine life without it. How will you use your phone now that you're a parent? Use it wisely because no matter how techno-savvy you are, the best parenting happens in real time, live and in person.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

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