Newborn tracking apps might not be that useful

One infant-feeding specialist suggests that new parents go “old school” and use pen and paper.

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Instead of using a smartphone app to record a baby’s every feeding, wetting and poop, Bryna McCollum, a UW Medicine physician assistant and lactation consultant in the Department of Family Medicine, wishes new parents would simply read their child’s behavioral cues as to when they need food, sleep or changing. 

“Some apps say you should feed your baby every two hours,” McCollum said. “But babies will often cluster feed every 45 minutes. You really don’t want to avoid feeding. Plan to record feedings and diaper changes with pencil and paper for the first five days or so. Then check in during your baby’s checkup about whether this is still necessary.”

More importantly, watch your baby for cues rather than an app or a clock. Crying is a late sign of hunger.  Early signs of hunger might happen about 30 minutes earlier and can include your newborn starting to squirm during sleep, moving their mouth or sucking on their hands.   

It’s often the case that babies rouse at night, but parents who turn to their phone to record these events might lose sleep unnecessarily, she said.

“You might be recording this and then find yourself scrolling through Instagram for an hour, thereby cutting into your sleep time,” McCollum said. One study found that parents who tracked their babies’ events on apps lost about 45 minutes of sleep a night. 

 She added, “All the apps in the world won’t help your baby sleep more predictably.”

To preserve sleep for the household, McCollum advises against turning on lights at night and to forgo pumping if it isn’t necessary. With a good layer of barrier cream, some nighttime diaper changes can be skipped, too, she added.

These recommendations were recently compiled by the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, which cautioned parents not to rely heavily on tracking apps. 

McCollum recommends that parents start to mentally prepare for life with a newborn during the third trimester of pregnancy.

 “If we go into the newborn phase expecting your typical pre-baby 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. sleep schedule, the adjustment period is often much harder, she said.

Parents will need to feed, change and soothe the baby during the night, so they might expect to need 12 hours in bed to get eight hours of sleep — because slumber likely will be interrupted, she said. 

Finally, parents should regard self-care as important, she said, calling it “fourth trimester care.” 

Potentially helpful advice: Create a schedule in which each parent gets a solid four hours of sleep per night. It might work for one parent to sleep from 8 p.m. to midnight or 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. while their partner provides infant care, and then swapping for the next several hours.  Single parents will similarly need help to get enough rest. 

“I see parents come in so often, and they tell me they feel like zombies,” McCollum said. “We can give them advice on how to monitor their baby and find some new ways to feel well-rested.”

And there is not an app for that. 

Related: Read a Spanish-language version of our news item.


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