One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mobile device apps for contraction monitoring

In this post, I review some apps I found for mobile devices for monitoring contractions during labor. Please note that I did not use these during labor. In fact, I did not use these at all at any point.

Name: Contraction Calc (US$2.99)
Platform: Blackberry
Claim to fame: Has a Contraction Alert Notification feature that reminds you to go to the hospital. Because when in labor, sometimes you forget to have your baby.

Name: Contraction Master (US$0.99) by Bill Snebold Design
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: It has nearly 3,000 fans on Facebook, so it must be good!

Name: Labor and Contraction Timer (Free) by Michael Kale of Earlybird Software
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch, Android
Claim to fame: With a 20-minute average, you can see the current contraction trend. That is, when contractions are 5 minutes apart, you can see the average of the last four contractions, which, if you have taken any kind of statistics, you know is totally meaningless.

Name: Contraction Timer (Free) by Deltaworks
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: Oh, where to start. Exhibit A (not shown): The background for the application is pink and white, vertically striped, with stripes of varying widths. No, no, no. Horizontal stripes are used in art to convey calmness, relaxation, peace, and strength. Vertical stripes portray energy, and height. Deltaworks should ask itself: Do I want to energize and possibly annoy the woman in labor (or her partner), or soothe her? Let's move on to Exhibit B. Check out this graph of duration of contractions and interval between contractions, and recall that stats class again. Would you use a bar graph to represent these things? A bar graph suggests volume or quantity. The graphing style here is inappropriate.

Name: NineMonths - Pregnancy Contraction Timer and Kick Count ($0.99) by Philip Defatta of Useful Mobile Apps
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: Maybe I'm cynical. Maybe I'm the only one. The lack of apostrophe bothers me now, and I'm not even in labor. When I was in labor, every little thing that could possibly bother me normally was magnified a hundred-fold, so I could easily see myself throwing the iPhone across the room after timing just a couple contractions with NineMonths, simply because of that missing apostrophe. The baby movement meter (Kick Count) also sports some fantastic grammar problems: "You can reset and repeat this test according your physician instructions."

Next, the user is presented with three options to describe the contractions. This is a neat idea. However --- am I nuts? --- I can think of much more colorful adjectives to describe labor contractions than "Firm," "Moderate," and "Mild." Which one is the strongest, most intense of those three? "Firm" is a handshake. "Moderate" is middle-of-the-road. "Mild" is a salsa flavor. Although possibly good for early labor, not one of those is descriptive enough of contractions in active labor. A suggestion: Have the adjectives change intensity as contractions are seen to get closer together. Early labor adjectives can be light, medium, and intense. As labor progresses, replace the adjectives with more emotional ones. Gentle, manageable, and unpleasant. I don't know.
Another alternative is the Likert-like scale. If the app is already treating the user as a participant, ask questions.

Please read the statement and select from the following options.
This contraction was manageable.
  • Strongly disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Agree
  • Strongly agree

On the other hand, this is the only app I have seen that uses a fun font, reminding the laboring mom that, indeed, a baby is coming.

Name: Contraction Tracker USA ($1.99) by hexaZen
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: Pretty neat tracking and graphing capabilities. It shows the stage of labor, and shows how long the laboring mom has been in each stage. On the other hand, mom is the one that has to select the stage of labor, and she is unlikely to look positively on selecting Transition from Active Labor when she gets there. Also, this app is much more interesting if a complete picture of each contraction is shown. Unfortunately, tracking each contraction is as tedious as it is unnecessary (and, indeed, has been shown to be medically and emotionally detrimental).

Name: Contraction (Free) by Eric Viegas of
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: It's simple. In fact, it's text-only. Nothing like reading a wall of text when you're in labor!

Name: Contraction Timer and Fetal Kick Counter ($0.99) by Quality Work Software, LLC
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: I hope you like Comic Sans. The whole app is covered with it! Comic Sans is like a blackberry bush that never dies, but the thorns are scary clowns from 1994 that make you cry. Remember that apostrophe? "When a Contraction Ends, Rank It's Strength." Don't worry, mom-to-be: contractions are statistically proven to be less painful when viewed with Comic Sans.
This app provides tons of information, including perceived contraction strength, interval, and duration, as well as the trend among the last three contractions. If you are prone to worrying, there is a myriad of information about the progress of your labor about which you can worry between contractions.

Name: Baby Time - Pregnancy Contraction Timer ($3.99) by Slave Turtle, LLC
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: The front screen (with the timer) shows a creepy lady grinning from ear to ear. If I were in the throes of labor, I may punch her. Now, check out the reviews. If you accidentally start the timer, you're stuck with a contraction in your history that will throw off your data, unless you're cool with deleting your entire log. On the other hand, this app has information about contraction patterns and stages of labor, and the analysis tool takes your charted contractions and tells you which stage of labor you are most likely experiencing, based on the last seven contractions. Contraction intensity is self-reported on a slider, which, because it is a continuous measurement, has the benefit of being as precise as you like. The endpoints of the slider are adaptive, as they are part of the mom's (or her partner's, if he is the one charting the contractions) mental model, and their meanings can change over time.

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