Breastfeeding: Yes, There’s an App for That
La Leche League, a national breastfeeding advocacy group, recently posted a question on Facebook: “Do you use a breastfeeding app? What apps do you like, and why?”
As a new mother who is exclusively breastfeeding my infant, this question was of interest to me, mainly because I started out using an app to track various aspects of breastfeeding, but abandoned it relatively quickly because of user experience issues.
The app I used was provided by formula-maker Similac. You’re probably wondering why a formula company would provide a breastfeeding app, and you may be right to be suspicious. Similac makes money if breastfeeding moms decide they need to supplement or switch to formula. So, maybe making a user friendly breastfeeding app isn’t their goal. But that’s a discussion for another time.
The Similac app allows a caregiver to track breastfeeding, sleep, diapers, and baby’s growth. I used it only for breastfeeding, since all of the other elements were going well, and I didn’t see a need to track them.
Many women who answered La Leche League’s question on Facebook cited the need to remember which side to start feeding from as a key reason for using an app. It’s important to start feeding on the breast you stopped feeding on during the previous session. And, while it may seem crazy that a mom can’t remember where she left off, just trust me. Sleep deprivation can do crazy things to a person.
The Similac app provides this functionality, but the way it was presented always tripped me up. The app shows a drawing of a woman wearing a bra, and you simply tap right or left breast to indicate where you’re starting. The app will highlight for you the side you’re supposed to start on, based on where you left off last time. However, the drawing shows the woman as if she’s facing you. So, if you’re the breastfeeding woman, left is now on the right, and right is on the left. I started out always tapping the wrong side. Then I learned but I had to consciously tell myself “tap the opposite side.” I spent many hours in the glider wondering if Similac actually tested the app on real women. My guess is they didn’t.
There were other aspects of the app that annoyed me, but the real reason I abandoned is because I realized that, to be useful to me, the app had to be easier to use than my iPhone’s stopwatch. To understand why this is, here are a couple of breastfeeding fundamentals.
First, it’s a two handed job. One hand holds the baby’s head, and the other holds the breast. That doesn’t leave a free hand to do a lot of tapping. I can access the stopwatch without entering my passcode. It takes me a maximum of 3 taps to get to the stopwatch. In contrast, to access the breastfeeding app functionality, I had to: swipe to unlock, tap a 4 digit passcode, navigate to the app, open the app, tap “next entry” to begin recording the feeding, and then tap the starting breast on the drawing. That’s at least 7 taps and a swipe, assuming the app is on the first page of my phone’s springboard.
Second, breastfeeding takes some time when the baby is very young. So while my son was feeding, my phone would inevitably time out, leaving me to repeat the swipe, passcode, tap process to get back to the app to pause, resume, or switch breasts.
So what do I really want in a breastfeeding app? Ideally, I want an app to know I’m breastfeeding without me having to tell it. I’ve thought of geofencing my nursery and putting sensors in my bra.Maybe I need an app that responds to my voice so I don’t need my hands at all – the kind of app Siri would invent if she had a baby. It would be nice if I could specify certain apps to appear in my iPhone’s quick access tray (the one with the stopwatch) and bypass the passcode for those apps only.
But ultimately, because my app disappointed, I decided to let go of my innate need to track every little detail and just go with the flow (excuse the pun). I wanted to record my thoughts about it before they left my sleep-deprived brain. So thanks, for letting me that that off my chest (ahem!).
I think the moral of this story is that app designers must test their app designs with real users, doing the activity the app is designed to support. This kind of testing, and the subsequent iterative design, can eliminate a lot of issues that are obvious to the user, but may not necessarily be to the designer.
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