Monday, May 14, 2012

Graphing Baby: New Apps for Parents

Sleep Telemetry chart by Trixie Tracker

Shortly after my first child was born, I discovered a web site called The Trixie Update. Here a stay-at-home dad (Ben MacNeill) shared updates of his baby (Trixie), including everything from exact sleep and wake hours to the number of diaper changes. Although I read a lot of books prior to the arrival of my daughter, she was born with some complications that threw me for a loop, and in the end I felt wholly unprepared. As I tried to keep track of feedings, sleep schedules and diaper changes on my own in Excel, I was entertained by the data points and graphs that Mr. MacNeill produced by vigilantly recording his baby's activities. The Trixie Update gave me a sense that I wasn't alone in this new world of parenthood.

That was 2004. Mr. MacNeill has since launched an app that helps all parents keep track of their baby's activities. Called The Trixie Tracker, the product web site says that "Our parents and caregivers have recorded 3.5 million naps, diapers and bottles."

The Trixie Tracker was recently featured in an article called The Data-Driven Parent in The Atlantic Monthly (by Mya Frazier). This and other products, like Baby Connect, Total Baby, Baby Log, iBabyLog, Evoz, and the Bedtime app by Johnson's Baby, have made "parenthood a more quantifiable, science-based endeavor. Forthcoming versions of baby-data apps are poised to bring even more dramatic change, allowing parents to compare their child with other children in great detail."

By using these products, parents can compare their baby's stats with those of thousands of other babies. It can bring relief to overwhelmed parents when they see that their baby falls in the middle of the curve. As Frazier says, "What remains to be seen is whether this new trove of information will reduce the anxieties of early parenthood or, by allowing constant, nervous comparisons, bring them into sharper relief."

One question that I have about these products is the level of privacy that they can afford. No doubt some of them have a way to connect to social networking sites to share baby's information with the world. And parents need to thoughtfully consider what kind of record (if any) that they want to create and share when it comes to their child.

Now that I'm an experienced parent, I realize that I could have relaxed a lot more, and that I did just fine without graphing my child. But had these products been around when my children were babies, I probably would have used one of them. Perhaps tracking diaper changes and feedings would have given me the sense that I was doing something that could help identify causes for concern early when in truth I often felt helpless. And it might have given me a small sense of community with other parents that I didn't have before. Of course, nothing could have replaced my meetups with other new parents and good old-fashioned advice from Grandma.

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