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Do baby gadgets increase new moms' burnout?

Babies don't come with remote controls or even an "off" switch. Do the promises made by high-tech baby gadgets set up new parents for increased burnout and disappointment?

You won't read this in the glossy ads of a pregnancy magazine, but motherhood often leaves women feeling burned out, disappointed at times, and confused about who they are anymore.

As a writer on this topic, one of my major conclusions is that it's not our reality that is necessarily so difficult, but rather the gap between our expectations and reality that drives us crazy.

BabyPlus ad from Fit Pregnancy magazine

What creates this gap? It begins with the romanticization of motherhood, the buildup to the "big day" of childbirth, like the idealization of a wedding as opposed to the reality of a marriage. Mothers-to-be are marketed to like crazy, and I am concerned that high-tech gadgets have a particular role in this problem. The marketing of gadgets raises the bar of expectation even higher, and gadgets tend to promise new parents an unrealistic level of control and certainty.

Take the BabyPlus "prenatal education system." Hey, I guess a regular baby isn't good enough any more. You need to produce a baby PLUS. This little pod is the latest gadget that a pregnant woman is supposed to strap to her belly to give her fetus a jump-start on academic achievement. The device "introduces patterns of sound to the unborn child in only the language he or she understands - the maternal heartbeat." The promised benefits include better sleep, better nursing, more self-soothing...right up to improved school readiness.

Now I can't say whether this program has any effect or not, but the marketing really bothers me.

The BabyPlus ad in Fit Pregnancy Magazine takes the prenatal certainties even further. The pregnant model says, "I know it's a boy. I know his name is Ryan. I know he will be calmer, happier, and brighter because of BabyPlus."

Might as well decorate Ryan's nursery as a Tar Heels fan and send in his application to UNC. The truth is that you can't really know a child's personality or abilities ahead of time, no matter what you do.

So many high-tech products promise to take the uncertainty out of pregnancy or parenting. That idea may make us feel better now, but it sets us up for disappointment later. Parenting is an ongoing challenge. It is humbling to realize how much is actually out of our direct control. You can be a great parent and you will still run into problems, hurdles, and painful life lessons.

I relished the mystery of pregnancy, the wonder of carrying around a little stranger whom I had not met yet. We didn't know whether we were expecting a boy or girl, and we decided we wouldn't settle on a name until after our baby was born. Making peace with that bit of uncertainty helped me remember later on that I can't always expect motherhood to conform to my expectations and wishes.

Another problem with the way baby gadgets are promoted is that new parents will feel guilty if they don't try a program that might help. The marketing messages play on the worries generated by the inherent uncertainties of childbirth. This blurb appeared as a "What's Hot for Tots" Featured Review, but it reads like it's straight BabyPlus promotional copy:

From the moment you find out you are going to be a mom the worries and concerns in your head go wild. You wonder and pray...will they be healthy, will they be a good baby, will they nurse, and will they sleep...and so on. Then you wonder about their milestones and childhood development; it is a natural thought process every mom and dad goes through. I am expecting my third and I try to do everything that is important for the health of my unborn baby. As I take my daily prenatal vitamins I think of our child's daily prenatal environment.

That is why I am so happy to have the BabyPlus education system. When I came across this product I knew it was important for my unborn child's development....

If a pregnant woman wasn't anxious before, that "review" sure gives her a lot to worry about. The truth is that BabyPlus can't promise that your baby won't be colicky, or that your child won't grow up to have dyslexia, ADD, or adjustment issues at school. BabyPlus can't promise a stable marriage, secure finances, siblings who get along, or healthy grandparents. When your 9-year-old shoplifts, is BabyPlus going to be there to help you explain why that's wrong? At that point it's not going to help to say, "Ryan, BabyPlus babies don't steal."

Parenting is an art as much as a science, and no gadget can trump the on-the-job training that each of us will receive.