When I became pregnant with my daughter, now 4, I didn't even own a smartphone. I did most of my pregnancy research with my desktop computer and pregnancy books.
Now, baby No. 2 is on the way and times have changed. I get weekly updates explaining what's going on with my body and my baby's development, which show up as notifications from my various iPhone apps. There are also apps to track how much weight you've gained, how often your baby kicks and eventually how far apart your contractions are.
Among the apps I have tried:
BabyBump (free, or $4 for ad-free version with additional features; for Apple and Android devices):
Like other pregnancy apps, you start by entering your due date, weight and other information. The app creates a chart tracking your progress and showing the number of days left. (BabyBump also encourages you to upload a photo of your expanding belly each week to create a time-lapsed series of your growth, but I didn't bother with that.)
There are daily tips and a weekly update explaining what's going on with your body and baby. You can play slideshows of you and your baby's weekly development. These are in the form of drawings showing an expanding belly and what's inside. You can also join online pregnancy groups and use the app to keep a journal.
The free version has advertising on the bottom. The $4 pro version doesn't. The pro version also has a kick counter and contraction tracker, along with planning tools for shopping, name selection and birth announcements.
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WebMD Pregnancy (free, for Apple devices only):
I like this app the most. Like the BabyBump app, there's a pregnancy calendar and weekly illustrations showing development. But WebMD's pictures are more vibrant and less cartoonish, though a bit more graphic.
There are daily tips and suggested questions to ask your doctor at your next appointment. You can keep track of your doctor's appointments and log your weight and blood pressure. Although I used the app to track how much weight I was gaining, I didn't bother with the blood pressure and found my Google calendar to be more useful in logging appointments.
The app includes a kick counter and contraction timer for free, whereas I had to pay for those features with BabyBump.
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Bellabeat (free app, but heart monitor costs $129; app for Apple and Android devices):
At-home fetal heart listening systems aren't new. There are a handful of products of varying prices and quality, but many people have complained that they don't work well and aren't easy to use, especially in the early stages of pregnancy.
You plug the Bellabeat heart monitor into your phone's headphone port, and then plug a set of earbuds into the device. The companion phone app detects the baby's heart rate and lets you record the sound. You can even share the audio through Facebook, Twitter or email.
Like the devices used by doctors, the Bellabeat uses high-frequency sound waves to pick up the heartbeat. But this isn't nearly as advanced as the one at my doctor's office.
I had a mixed experience with it. The first time I tried the Bellabeat, I was 37 weeks pregnant. I managed to pick up my baby's heartbeat after a few tries. But a few days later, after the baby had moved into a new position, I couldn't find it at all. I just got a lot of whooshing noises from the device. Eventually, I picked up a faint heartbeat. I wasn't worried, but I can see why some doctors think these gadgets can cause unnecessary distress.
You can get the app for free without buying the device, and it gets you a lot of the same tools that WebMD and BabyBump provide.
The real question is: Is it worth $129 to hear your baby's heartbeat whenever you like?