With the proliferation of smartphones, there are literally dozens of apps available to track all aspects of breastfeeding. Traditionally, women have pinned a safety pin to their bra strap to remember on which side they nursed, but like many things, this sort of simple method has given way to technology. I looked on my iphone today and there were pages and pages of free and paid apps for use with breastfeeding. So are any of these useful?
This article will not be comparing features of various apps, but addressing the issue of when and how to use breastfeeding trackers. I am concerned that these “helpful” tools may not always actually be helpful. These various apps, as well as handheld timers and journals) provide means for mothers to obsessively track a baby’s feedings, sleep schedules and, yes, diaper contents in great detail.
Now there is excellent reason to be aware of feeding and diaper patterns, especially in the first days of life, to ensure that that baby is receiving adequate nutrition. Most doctors and lactation professionals would recommend being aware of wet and dirty diapers in the first week. Women planning to breastfeed also need to make sure that the baby is nursing at least 8-12 times each 24 hour period as well as taking some care to use both breasts roughly equally for feedings.
However, unless specifically instructed by a health professional such as a pediatrician or lactation professional in response to a concern, there is absolutely no need that I can think of to track feedings to the minute (or second!) and to know exactly what times of day they happened. In fact, this sort of data maintenance can really stress out a new mother. Further, this sort of mentality buys into the notion of scheduled or restricted feedings which can be dangerous for babies and destructive to breastfeeding success (see my article on scheduled feedings ).
In general, I think it is a good idea to take your eye off the clock and each day at about the same time (e.g. after dinner) to start a new tally or list, whether on a smartphone or an old-fashioned piece of paper, that marks the start each new breastfeeding session and maybe a rough estimate of the length of the feeding. This will give mothers some idea of how many times their baby nurses in 24 hours. As long as there are 8-12 feedings of some substance, when the baby is effectively removing milk, there is no need to track feedings in more detail.
In the first days or weeks, if many of the baby’s feedings are somewhat spaced out (more than 2 hours apart) it may then be helpful to jot down the start time of the feed to be aware at the 2 to 3 hour mark that another feeding should be offered in order to be able to get in the recommended 8-12 feedings. If you are unable to encourage the baby to feed effectively this often by the second or third day of life, seek help from a lactation professional to protect the development of the milk supply and ensure the baby is receiving nutrition.
In terms of tracking the switching of breasts, the significant factor is to start each feeding on the alternate breast, so that they equally get that extra stimulation babies give at the start of the feed. Safety pins are still great, you can jot an R or L on the feeding tally, or a nursing bracelet can be handy and a little cuter. The trick is to have a very solid definition of whether the pin or letter or bracelet means that’s the side you started on LAST time or the side you need to start on NEXT time. Never vary this, and make the note/switch as soon as you start the feeding… you’d be surprised how sleep deprivation can make you forget! The truth is that after establishing a healthy supply, you won’t need any help knowing which side to nurse on next – you’ll be able to easily sense or feel by differences in fullness.
Remember also that there is no one “optimal” feeding pattern. Some babies nurse on routine schedules. Some babies change patterns frequently as they grow. Some babies have many more shorter feedings, which can sometimes even be more ideal to stimulate milk supply and can earn night sleep much earlier (my second daughter rarely breastfed more than 5 minutes at a time, but nursed about 20-25 times a day then after she was about a week old, when she nursed frequently over about 16-18 hours and then for 6-8 hours at night.. it was great!).
But this is not something mothers should or can *decide.* My concern with these sorts of trackers is that they can mothers so focused on watching the clock (or the app) and what they think *should* be happening that they don’t learn to watch their baby for feeding cues and learn what pattern (or lack of pattern!) their baby needs. This is the best way to ensure a healthy baby and healthy milk supply.
As a side note, I have to mention that one of the free apps on the iphone at least was offered by the makers of Similac. Remember that breastfeeding is not a companion but a competitor to the formula industry, however much they try to pretend otherwise. See my article regarding why to beware of breastfeeding help from formula companies .
So use breastfeeding apps and trackers with care, and be sure that your focus remains on your baby and your body and not on your clock or your smartphone.
Here is a cute little charm and bracelet that can help mothers keep track of the side they nursed on without the stress of major data "tracking." Bracelet comes with different birthstones which, breastfeeding aside makes it a lovely new mother gift.
Swarovski Birthstone Bracelets - click here for birthstone options