It’s mid-September when I first saw the second very faint but recognizable line on the home pregnancy test. I’ve just returned home from a business trip to the UK, and after days of discomfort – smelling toothpaste in hotel bathrooms, constantly making excuses to go to work lunches to cool off after a bout of pain. sudden hot flashes – I suspect I’m pregnant. I took the test at 5:30 am, the plane was laggy and my eyes were blurry. My husband was fast asleep, so I announced to my dogs and cats that they were going to be big brothers, and then did what most expectant mothers in the internet age do: download the Application for pregnant women. What size fruit was my embryo? I need to know, and quickly.
The answer, I soon discovered, was a poppy seed. I wonder how a single poppy seed can make me feel so horrible so soon, and more impressively, if this app can tell me if the throbbing pain in the left side of my stomach i mean there is something wrong with me or the baby, or both. At least, I think, it will give me some answers or inner solace until the pregnancy books I ordered arrive or I can see my ob-gyn.
I’m wrong. I quickly learned that pregnancy apps are not meant to provide comfort; They are a horror show cum fantasy land, providing very little factual information about the parenting journey. They take advantage of the excitement and anxiety of expectant mothers, selling unrealistic expectations and even outright misinformation to sell ads and retain users. They promote negative effects on the physical and mental health of both mothers and their unborn babies, profiting from the emotional onslaught of pregnancy. It’s another way the Internet and America’s healthcare system are failing pregnant people.
Like a miscommunication researcher, I study how people are manipulated online, so I braced myself for the wave of ads that would follow me from the Apple App Store and Google searches to Facebook and Instagram feeds mine. When my husband and I decided it was time to have a baby, I was careful turn on VPN and find answers to my pregnancy-related queries in an incognito window; I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to conceive, and I was wary of emotional burden of targeted advertisements Follow me on the internet. But once I got pregnant, it became burdensome to go through that cycle of anonymity every time I had a question. So I gave in and accepted that the ads I saw would no longer depict luxury handbags and exotic vacations I couldn’t afford, but eco-friendly cribs. and organic cribs that I might not need. I suppose that would be the Internet’s worst offense.
The truth is much worse. As I soon realized, the most downloaded pregnancy apps were more akin to the political misinformation I researched than a trusted medical resource for expectant parents. The companies behind the apps warn users in long, inaccessible terms of service written in legal language that they are no substitute for medical advice or care, however, the the app is still hugely popular: In a Research 2016, at least 55% of participants used a pregnancy app to track and learn about their pregnancy, with first-time parents more likely to seek them out. It’s likely that the usage of apps will only increase in the short term. The top five apps boast incredible user statistics, reporting from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of lifetime users. Like social media platforms, they are free, generating revenue through advertising, referrals, and in-app purchases. Many companies are run by “lifestyle” companies, a fact that is reflected in the information they provide: A Learning in 2021 surveyed 29 apps and found more than 60% did not have comprehensive information about every stage of pregnancy and only 28% cited medical literature.
From the first interaction with one of these apps—usually the sign-up screen—it’s clear that they don’t just exist to help users get through pregnancy. Reluctantly, I provided my email address for each application. (Only one of the top apps, What to expect, among What happens when you are expecting well known, allows you to skip this step, although every time you open it, a pop-up will remind you that you’re missing out on a “personalized experience” by withholding your data.) I checked the box acknowledging that app developers may share my information with partners — otherwise, no app for me! —but the speed with which it happened was astounding. Within minutes, I had a health newsletter from WebMD in my inbox. Looks like I’ve also signed up for emails from Pottery Barn Kids now. (I also can’t seem to unsubscribe.) Within weeks, I received emails from local preschools encouraging me to think about educating my pea-sized unborn child, has its own tail. All this while navigating the nausea, the unprecedented fatigue, and the sharp pain in my left side that hasn’t gone away.