Better mobile apps can make pregnancy less stressful for women, partners, family, HU prof says

Harrisburg University Social Computing and HCI Professor Dr. Tamara Peyton recently presented a paper titled “Improving a Design Space: Pregnancy as a Collaborative Information and Social Support Ecology” at the Future of Information and Communications Conference (FICC) in San Francisco.

Dr. Tamara Peyton

The paper, the result of Dr. Peyton’s doctoral research at Penn State University, details the findings of a three-year study investigating the need for the development of mobile apps for pregnant women that include effective support tools for not just those who are pregnant, but also their loved ones.

Following exhaustive research of all pregnancy apps found in the Apple iOS marketplace, Dr. Peyton and co-author Dr. Pamela Wisniewski, a professor at the University of Central Florida, determined that there are plenty of apps for pregnant women that provide support strictly from a fetal development and physical health perspective. However, none of the researched apps included support features that account for a pregnant woman’s social network, including expectant fathers, family and friends.

Pregnancy does not only affect a pregnant woman; it also changes relationships and lives of an expecting mother’s social support network, which is why Dr. Peyton and Dr. Wisniewski call for “less gendered and more meaningfully collaborative mobile health technologies to support pregnancy” in the paper.

We caught up with Dr. Peyton following her presentation in San Francisco to discuss the fascinating study.

Can you tell me what prompted this study?

This study was the concluding study in a three-year project, investigating the role of social support on subjective feelings of health and wellness among lower-income pregnant women in Pennsylvania. It was funded in part by an AT&T grant that I received while I was a doctoral student at Penn State. This particular app analysis study was prompted by the general feedback I received from the presentation and publication of earlier study work in the project. I was frequently told “there has to be apps that provide good social support for pregnancy”. In order to determine if this is true, I did this study. We did an exhaustive cataloging of all pregnancy apps in the Apple iOS marketplace, in order to better understand what information, functionality, and features pregnancy apps contain. We were particularly interested in seeing how apps support or neglect the social and transitional aspects of pregnancy as a normal part of life for many adult women.

How will a more holistic pregnancy support app help pregnant women and those who support them?

This overall project set out to understand the need for technology support tools to consider the entire experience of pregnancy, as a normal part of life. This includes understanding how pregnancy is a transition period in the lives of women and couples, particularly when it’s a first pregnancy.

We know that pregnancy isn’t just a medical event whose risks need to be carefully and conscientiously managed. Pregnancy is a normal part of life for women and couples everywhere. Yet the vast majority of work around pregnancy only considers the narrow frame of medical pregnancy. Not only does this lead to a lot of missed opportunities to improve the lives of pregnant women, but it also neglects the way a pregnancy affects an entire group of people: notably, the father, but also the significant others who surround the pregnant women with social, emotional, and informational support. The earlier focus group and interview studies revealed these aspects. This paper then looked at what features are currently prevalent in pregnancy apps and considered how apps currently support (or not) the social transition aspects of pregnancy, particularly first pregnancy.

Where did you present this paper so far? Are there any other upcoming presentations we can mention?

Earlier parts of the project have been presented and published widely. In addition to presenting and publishing this final study at FICC, previous work has been presented at leading ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) human-computer interaction conferences (CHI, CSCW, GROUP, DIS), published in the ACM Digital Library (dl.acm.org) and published in two healthcare informatics journals. It also formed the basis for my PhD Dissertation.

Why do you think the existing apps lack a more holistic support system?

App designers tend to have little to no social science training, and often do not include midwives, nurses or other support professionals in their project work. Additionally, much app development is not evidence-based, meaning the designers and developers of apps do not necessarily do qualitative or quantitative research into the appropriateness of an app’s focus, into what content would best support the target population, etc. Instead, many app developers simply adopt an existing information data set available widely and build an app around that. Also, there is a misconception that all women share widely via social media, and therefore wouldn’t need something added to provide support for the more normalized view of pregnancy as a normal part of life for many adults.

What would you say a holistic support system includes and how would an app address this?

A holistic support system would include the ability for pregnant women to designate who their significant social supporters might be for their pregnancy and would be able to address the woman’s perceived uniqueness to her pregnancy experience. It would also be highly personal and individual, unlike many existing apps that simply lump women together with other strangers based on their expectancy date. An app would allow women to share information selectively with her chosen supporters. It would treat the father as a core supporter around pregnancy and provide him with support and education. There are other options, but those are some that stand out.

To read “Improving a Design Space: Pregnancy as a Collaborative Information and Social Support Ecology,” click Here.

About Harrisburg University

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