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Apps to Track Baby’s Milestones: Obsessive or Helpful?

How plugged into your baby and child's development should you be?

I remember a neighbor of mine who recorded her perfectly healthy infant son’s every bowel movement. I thought that was pretty intense and complusive. It is decades later with digital apps replacing paper records. Are apps to track baby’s developmental progress a must-have?

Apps Mania

From apps that chart fetal development during pregnancy to those that track a newborn’s feeding and sleeping schedules, parents can follow and document virtually every aspect of their young one’s growth effortlessly — all on their smart phone or other devices. For example, Baby Milestones Plus lets parents and professionals monitor their child’s advancement in areas such as motor skills, social development, vision, and speech. It even points out “developmental red flags.” This app, one of hundreds, is available in many languages including Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Traditional Chinese and the cost, $1.99, makes it very enticing.

There are also monitoring apps that allow parents to follow more than one sibling at a time, to determine who reaches what milestone when. The iPad app PPOD — “Parents & Pediatricians Optimizing Development” — logs 108 developmental benchmarks like language and fine motor skills and organizes data in color-coordinated charts. Parents can set specific tasks geared toward advancing each child’s particular needs, and can compare one child’s advancement to another’s.

Apps that dictate where a child “should” be serve only to unnerve. Children develop skills and mature at different ages. Apps that help parents determine if baby or young child is “on track” developmentally can make some parents worry unnecessarily.

As tangible developmental markers, the apps seem questionable. Most parents know and remember when their child said her first word, for example. They know when she first stood up and walked…without relying on an app. For parents, the memory itself is far more precious than the specific how’s, where’s and when’s that an app would show.

Parenting for Digital Junkies

For digitally savvy parents today, baby-monitoring apps can seem like godsends. There can be downsides to depending on an app — many of which may invite parents to needlessly anxious.

Nervous new parents might find the app that interprets a baby’s cries and translates them into helpful hints comforting. But most parents learn baby’s cues quite quickly, without additional electronic help, as they have been for thousands of years. If the baby’s cries are persistent and inexplicable, parents seek medical advice.

Select Apps Cautiously

Some apps can be helpful, particularly if a pediatrician proposes using one for a specific health problem. For instance, an app that tracks baby’s diaper changes might be useful if a baby was suffering from a urinary tract infection and the doctor recommends using it until the infection clears up. Similarly, apps that track medications or vaccinations can be beneficial as a place to save your child’s important medical information.

But, to use an app solely to count diaper changes has little value. Parents might learn that they changed 4,000+ diapers before their child was toilet trained or precisely how many minutes he has slept on nearly every day since birth. How will having this data make you a more relaxed or engaged parent?

Opting Out of Baby-Monitoring Apps

Use the time you would spend entering and pouring over your child’s stats or hunting for the next handy app to hold, hug, sing or read to your child.

If I were a parent of a baby, I would ask myself what all these metrics stored in my digital device ultimately prove. For every parent who testifies that an app made her more comfortable, there are likely just as many and maybe more parents for whom the apps serve only to increase their anxiety.

With so much demand in this digital age for more and more apps that log more and more benchmarks and habits throughout your child’s development, it seems to me that most baby-child monitoring apps end up being unnecessary. What do you think?

Copyright 2013 by Susan Newman

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