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These are the baby apps that helped me survive being a new mom

Commentary: How did people ever raise a baby without smartphone apps?

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Sally Anscombe/Getty Images

One of the first things I did after bringing my newborn home from the hospital last winter 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.  

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The Wonder Weeks app, for example, 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 during particularly rough evenings the same way I used to consult the Clue app for vindication for 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 also accompanied me during my nightly Norah Jones acoustic bedtime sets. 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 post-maternity leave/pre-reopening of child care centers 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? There's an app for that. (Sorry.) 

Lonely, but not alone

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

Sarah Tew/CNET

My son is now a year old, and I've slowly begun to shed the many trappings of new-parenthood. After a year of tracking every diaper, every ounce of every bottle, every minute of every nap, I even said goodbye to the beloved Baby Tracker app. I don't need it anymore, because I've gone all the way around the sun with this little boy -- who now tries to eat my phone whenever he can wrestle it away from me -- and, "optimized" or not, I know a thing or two now about how to take care of him.

Most evenings after putting my son to bed, I scroll through the Google Photos app and peruse the pictures and videos I took earlier in the day, uploading the best ones to an album shared with all of his grandparents and aunts and uncles. The app sends me delightful little collages and animations of him every once in a while, and lately, "one year ago today" slideshows featuring my bygone fuzzy-headed newborn. I discovered months after the fact that the very 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. Smartphone usage was trending up 20% last year over the previous year, by some accounts, 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 to 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, wondering when I'd ever sleep again. My cousin messaged me -- she was up with a baby, 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."

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