More mums using breastfeeding apps - but it's not all good news

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

While previous generations kept track of breastfeeding by attaching a safety pin to their bras, (which boob did I last feed from?) new Australian research shows that more and more mums are using mobile apps. But do they actually help?

According to the study, published in Health Informatics Journal, the answer is yes - and no.

Researchers from Flinders University, Adelaide, interviewed mothers about their experiences of using infant feeding apps, an area yet to be explored in detail.

"In 2016, there were over 108 infant feeding apps listed on the Apple store alone and perusal of these suggests they apps have three main purposes: track the infant's intake and output, track infant growth and assist with the introduction of solid foods," the authors write.


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During interviews, mums reported that logging data helped alleviate some of the anxiety around early motherhood - and not just about breastfeeding.

"If he had had 2.5 hours of feeding per day when he was early on, I was like oh, that's his kind of average and I'd feel comfortable with knowing that that was you know, okay."

"I couldn't remember did they use their bowels yesterday I don't really remember or was it the day before, so I was able to look back because I'd put every nappy change in."

Others appreciated being able to find patterns among the data, which helped them understand their baby's cues.


"It just helps work out . . . when he was upset or something what was wrong. You could look back and work out what was going on, you know, you could just check, and it generally helped eliminate the issue."

For some, the app gave them enough confidence to prolong their breastfeeding journey.

"There were times that I think I was definitely going to give up earlier, but you know once you can see patterns in the feeding and yourself, like you're getting right and we can feed . . . then you sort of went, oh well I must be doing it right so I'll keep going."

"This technology is helping mothers with everyday routines and decision-making which can be tiring and sometimes complex with breastfeeding – although some mobile apps are better than others," says co-author Kaitlyn Dienelt. "Overall, the participants were positive and some even felt they would have given up on breastfeeding without the app."


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Despite the positives, however, some mums cited over-reliance on the apps and becoming "addicted" to them as a downside to their use.

"I stopped using it because um I thought I'm being too anal about this . . . being too concerned about it, I just need to stress less, and just go with the flow and just be a bit more relaxed about it . . . so, that's why I stopped using it completely, and then I think the breastfeeding improved from there 'cause I was worrying about it less . . . it's not just the, uh you know, the connection with the child, but it's a biological thing, it probably helps me with my milk production and that sort of thing as well."

"I probably could've just gone put the phone down and enjoyed the baby."

Concerns about the reliability and accuracy of the apps also weighed on mothers' minds.

"I still like to talk to someone and probably double check with people that are more qualified like, yeah, so if I had concerns about his feeding I would call the parenting helpline, or I would seek advice from like a, you know someone's that more qualified than just the app itself."


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Others suggested that the amount of data generated by the app was overwhelming.

 "It's all over the place and I don't really know how to interpret it."

"Some apps provide information that is not always accurate and can't be tailored to the individual," says Dr Jacqueline Miller, an expert in paediatric nutrition. "Information stored in the app can provide a useful history to discuss with health care providers who can then provide much more individualised advice, particularly with breastfeeding."

That said, she acknowledges that the apps provide a more modern approach for tracking bubs' progress.

"They are increasingly giving mums a modern way of tracking aspects of baby care, including feeding regularly, sleep, growth and nappy changes," Dr Miller says. "A generation ago mums used a safety pin to remind themselves which side to start feeding on. But these days we use apps to record all sorts of facts.".

According to the study the mobile health app market is expected to exceed $US30 billion by 2020.