Ann Crady Weiss had always considered herself a relaxed person. But as soon she had her first child, everything changed. She found she was not a relaxed mother; she was an anxious wreck. She was determined to breast feed, but was constantly worried her daughter wasn’t eating enough.
“No one tells you before you have a baby, but you actually can’t tell how much is coming out,” Weiss recalls of breastfeeding, “You have no idea whether they’re getting enough.”
Her pediatrician counseled her to supplement with formula if she was worried, and Weiss bought a scale to weigh her baby at home. But she didn’t want to feed her daughter formula, the scale was bulky and clinical, and she wasn’t able to put her mind at ease.
Despite her worries, Weiss’s daughter had a healthy infancy. When her son was born ten years later in 2012, Weiss didn’t want to go through the same anxiety. She noticed health trackers and other “smart” hardware products, like Fitbit and smart watches, had taken off, so she went shopping for a device to track her baby’s health and ease her growth anxieties.
“It felt like a product that must exist,” she says. But it didn’t—and that’s when Hatch Baby was born.
Weiss and her husband, David Weiss, co-founded Hatch Baby to create smart devices for parents. They just launched their first product: the “Smart Changing Pad” a Wi-Fi enabled changing pad with a built-in scale and an accompanying smartphone app.
Parents can track their baby’s every dirty diaper, feeding, and weigh-in, see how their baby’s growth compares to World Health Organization averages, and share the infant’s profile with up to three caregivers. Weiss says she hopes this information will provide new parents assurance that their baby is healthy. But is this much data healthy for the parents?
Millennial Parents, Quantified Babies
Margery Lackman, a pediatrician who’s been practicing in the Bay Area for over twenty-five years, says she was skeptical when she first heard about the Smart Changing Pad. “I thought, ah, another thing for parents to worry about,” she says. “But on the other hand, it is an objective way to tell what’s going on.”
Lackman says the Pad and the accompanying health-tracking app could be useful for her office to track babies they’re worried about. But for the everyday baby who’s not having any problems, she thinks the gadget will be mostly a “fun toy” for parents.
When Lackman’s own daughter was born, her experience was the opposite of Weiss’s. Lackman wasn’t worried about her daughter’s feeding, but at her daughter’s one-month check-up her pediatrician found the baby wasn’t gaining weight properly; Lackman’s milk supply was insufficient.
But Lackman doesn’t think having a Smart Changing Pad or home scale would have made a big difference for her baby’s health.
“I probably would have been in to the doctor earlier,” she says, but the difference wouldn’t have been more than a week because newborns already have check-ups bi-weekly. “I’m not sure the outcome would have been much different,” Lackman says. She started supplementing breastfeeding with formula, and her daughter gained weight normally.
The Smart Pad’s usefulness as a parenting tool probably depends on your parenting style, Lackman says. “I think some people want to know about every pee and every poop, and others really don’t.”
But Mary Beth Steinfeld, a clinical professor of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at UC Davis, and assistant director of an infant mental health-training program for medical professionals, isn’t sure the constant streams of data would be so harmless for all parents.
“If your baby’s doing well then it would be reassuring,” she says, “but if your baby’s not doing well, it could become a preoccupation.”
Steinfeld runs a feeding clinic to help new parents whose babies aren’t eating and gaining enough weight, and has seen this preoccupation first hand.
“There are children who are not gaining weight well, and those parents are very impacted by that information,” even without data-tracking devices, she says. Many of them weigh their children before and after feeding—not at Steinfeld’s recommendation but to calm their own nerves—and she sees how the baby’s weight is front and center in these parent’s minds.
“It can lead to real preoccupation of the mother, and if the mother’s preoccupied she’s not in the moment with you,” Steinfeld says.
A device like the Smart Pad that amplifies a parent’s preoccupation with their baby’s weight, if the baby’s not thriving, “has the potential to interfere with normal development of the relationship [between parent and child],” Steinfeld says. “I don’t know if it will be good or bad, it’s just an unknown.”
At Steinfeld’s clinic, instead of focusing on weight-tracking, she focuses on teaching parents to read baby hunger and satiety cues.
“It is important what’s going on between infants and parents,” she says. “Those first months help them learn about each other, and human beings were designed to learn about each other by reading behavioral cues, not by counting calories or grams.”
Weiss says she realizes that data from the Smart Changing Pad can’t replace this intuitive relationship. “There’s no question that’s important,” she says. “We don’t think it’s an ‘either/or’ thing, we think it’s an ‘and’ thing.”
But Steinfeld says she prefers to wait until she can review data on the device’s impact on parent-infant relationships and parent mental health before recommending it.
Best Baby Present: A Scale or a Book?
Whatever effect products like the Smart Changing Pad will have on modern parenting, the demand for them—and the potential for profit—is there.
“Parents of this generation are interested in data,” Weiss says. And investors agree: Hatch Baby raised more than $7 million in its first round of funding.
The Smart Changing Pad is cheaper than many home baby scales, so both Lackman and Steinfeld expect they could see Hatch Baby customers in their offices soon.
“It might actually make my life easier as a pediatrician, and it might save the parents a visit if everything’s going well,” says Lackman, whose patients are mostly healthily growing babies. “We’ll see if it drives them and me crazy or not.”
Steinfeld is sure it will appeal to many parents of feeding-challenged infants she works with. But she “wouldn’t give it to anybody for a baby gift right now,” she says. “I’d rather give them a book on baby cues and help them think of the baby as a person.”
Get the best of KQED's science coverage in your inbox weekly.