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On Mother's Day, Let's Hear It for the Smartphone Baby Apps

Commentary: Maybe new moms don't have to feel guilty about all the time we spend on our phones.

Karisa Langlo Senior Editor
Karisa Langlo has been writing and editing professionally for over 12 years, joining CNET with two writing degrees and bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, Louisville Magazine and The Masters Review. She started on CNET's mobile team before expanding to all tech and now works across categories to optimize the performance of all CNET advice and storytelling, from Wellness to Money, News and Culture. Karisa also manages strategy for CNET's Tips franchise.
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Karisa Langlo
5 min read
person taking smartphone photo of a baby
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One of the first things I did after bringing my newborn home from the hospital two winters ago was download an app. Specifically, the appropriately named Baby Tracker app for iPhone and Android, which allows parents to log their baby's diaper changes, feedings and sleep (among many, many other things).

Soon, I was downloading BabySparks and Huckleberry and White Noise Baby Sleep Sounds, apps that promised to help my son reach his developmental milestones, suggest optimal nap schedules and "wake windows," and simulate the soothing ambiance of a running hair dryer, respectively.

The pressure to focus on my baby's needs to the detriment of everything else quickly came to feel Sisyphean, and my smartphone apps allowed me to outsource a lot of the mental load -- the guilt, the stress, the uncertainty. I became enamored with all the ways my phone could optimize and organize the disorienting experience of taking care of a newborn.

Read more: Mother's Day Cards That Are Actually Funny

The Wonder Weeks app helped me better understand the baby's developmental "leaps" and warned me via push notification when he was about to enter a stormy period. During the "witching hour" era I began consulting Wonder Weeks on particularly rough evenings the same way I used to consult the Clue app for vindication of my own witching hours. "Oh, he's leaping," I'd tell my spouse. "He'll be nice to us again in about five days."

The What to Expect app, my erstwhile go-to source for weekly "your baby now has earlobes!"-style pregnancy videos, became a veritable life raft postpartum when I joined the message board for other parents of February babies. Here is where I discovered nursing tips, birth announcement ideas, frank discussions of postpartum depression, pros and cons of the infamous Snoo (with its own attendant smartphone app) and a rabbit hole of Instagram baby experts dispensing advice on baby sleep, baby food, baby milestones and baby sign language.

How many times did I make a (literally decade-stale) "there's an app for that" joke during my baby's first year? Well, new parents actually molt their sense of humor and irony with sleep deprivation, so you can imagine I said it quite a few times.

Some of the best apps for the new-mom life were actually the ones I already had installed on my phone: My Fitbit app motivated me to take more stroller walks, though I had to push one-handed to get credit for my steps. Spotify ended up superseding any of the white noise apps I tried, and it accompanied me during my nightly Norah Jones acoustic bedtime sets. (We still sing before bed every night, but my son has since become more of a Lou Reed fan.) And I wouldn't have completed my 2020 Goodreads challenge without Kindle and Libby, which allowed me to read in the dark while waiting for the baby to drift off, too scared of waking him with a creaking door to sneak out.

A single nursing session during the early post-maternity leave period had me Slack messaging coworkers, scheduling a Target curbside diaper pickup, reorganizing my to-do list, and posting a cute Instagram story of the baby wiggling his limbs to the beat of Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage," all from my phone.

And when I wanted a secondhand Sit-Me-Up chair or Kick 'n Play Piano to occupy the baby when I "went back" to work during the first COVID-19 lockdown? There's an app for that. (Sorry.) 

Lonely, but not alone


Google Photos can help you collect and share your baby photos with family.

Sarah Tew/CNET

My son is now 2 years old, and I've slowly shed the many trappings of new-parenthood. After a full year of tracking every diaper, every ounce of every bottle, every minute of every nap, I said goodbye to the beloved Baby Tracker app. I didn't need it anymore, because after going all the way around the sun -- now twice -- with this little boy (who now has his own cellphone made by Fisher-Price), I know a thing or two about how to take care of him.

Most evenings after putting my son to bed, I scroll through Google Photos and peruse the pictures and videos I took earlier in the day, uploading the best ones to an album shared with his grandparents and aunts and uncles. The app sends me delightful little collages and animations of him every once in a while, and lately, "two years ago today" slideshows featuring my bygone fuzzy-headed newborn. I discovered months after the fact that the first photos of me holding my baby were in fact captured as Motion Photos, and I could rewatch the tremble in my hand as I stroked the back of his head on loop.

We talk a lot these days about phone addiction and limiting screen time, and I worry often about how my brain is being rewired by my increasingly virtual existence. By some accounts, smartphone usage was trending up 20% the year my son was born, to an embarrassing 27% of waking hours. And maybe if there were an app for outsourcing this anxiety, I'd download that, too. (Oh wait, looks like there is.) 

But then I think of what a lifeline smartphones have become for new parents -- especially new mothers -- in the dark loneliness of those 3 a.m. feedings, the isolation of a pandemic-era maternity leave, the utter tumult of those first few unstructured days. I would have felt so much more adrift. 

One night, 10 days after I gave birth, I was up feeding my son, idly scrolling through Instagram and wondering when I'd ever sleep again. My cousin messaged me: She was up with a baby and scrolling through Instagram, too. She'd shared a post with me, a drawing by artist Paula Kuka of a woman nursing a baby, looking out a window at darkness. 

"The nights might feel lonely," it said, zooming out in each panel, showing other mothers in other houses, nursing other babies behind other windows, zooming out until each window became a single speck of light seen from space, the whole world lit up with mothers and babies, "but you are not alone."

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.