The unexpected benefit of tracking your infant's every move

Photo of baby in a Spider-Man shirt
Freddie, getting sleepy after defeating several members of the Sinister Six. 

The day after Freddie was born, Erin got a text from a coworker who had also just had a kid. "What app are you using?" he asked.

This was a hard question to answer, because we had no apps. No baby-related apps, anyway. I do have, like, Angry Birds and an app for a cab company in Winnipeg I still haven't got around to deleting, but those didn't seem pertinent to the question we were being asked. The only relevant app I downloaded during this whole becoming-a-parent process was an app to track Erin's contractions. I did not use it very much, though. Because her labour lasted like 26 hours, it ended up being more efficient for her to track her own contractions versus me bursting into the bedroom every few minutes to loudly ask, "HEY are you having a contraction?!"

Anyway. I did not know I needed an app for my baby. But it turns out activity-tracking apps for newborn babies is a very popular genre of apps, allowing parents to easily keep a log of food, sleep, diaper changes and other info.

After using one of them for the entire four(ish) months of Freddie's life, I can understand why.

We started using Baby Connect, because that's what Erin's coworker used. I've since learned that there are a bunch of alternatives, some of which look to have prettier  UIs. But Baby Connect worked well from the start. It's not free – we pay five bucks a month – but I consider that a pro, not a con. I'd rather pay for an app like this and know how the developer makes their money versus getting it free and wondering if they're somehow monetizing all this baby data.

We use it to log every feed (in millilitres – we're a metric household, thank you very much), every sleep and every diaper change. It can also log a whole lot of other things (tummy time, walks, baths, medication) but we rarely use those features.

Here's a glimpse at how things looked on day three of Freddie's life. The list is in reverse-chronological order.

Screenshot of Freddie's BabyConnect activity
Freddie's BabyConnect activity, day three

Crucially, it syncs between our phones reliably, which is very useful for our split-shift approach to things. It let Erin know when she took over in the middle of the night what Freddie's general status was – when he last ate, when he was last changed, how he was doing on sleep for the night.

I've read stories about some parents who only use these kinds of apps for a week or two and then stop using them because they find constantly entering data to be an unnecessary hassle. I get that, but it's the polar opposite of our experience. I love the hell out of this data-collection process. It pushes every nerdy button I have.

The app even has a "Timeline" feature where you get a graphical representation of your kid's activity. I can spend a ridiculous amount of time looking at this, trying to discern patterns like I'm a character in The Matrix trying to find meaning in those glowing green lines of code.

For example, here's a look at Freddie's timeline from early in his life.

Timeline of Freddie's activity between Dec 18 and Jan 9

And here's a more recent sample of days:

Timeline of Freddie's activity between Feb 22 and March 16

Obvious things jump out. The early weeks were all over the place. Now things are a bit more predictable. Like, there is now less sleep during the day and more sleep overnight. (He's started to do "dream feeds" where he eats at night without waking up, which is why you see red lines in the middle of blue blocks of sleep.) The daytime nap schedule is still very erratic, but if you squint and look real hard, you can kind of see regular-ish naps starting to develop between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. But maybe I'm just deluding myself.

For some next-level nerdery, though, I must tell you that you can also export data from this app in comma-separated values, or .csv, format. Do you know what this means? Do you understand the sheer magnitude of this potential? The glory I can bring to this world using this power? Reader, I can make charts.

I repeat: I can make charts.

Here for example, is a chart of how much Freddie eats. I figure this might be useful for other new parents who might have occasion to ask questions like, "Is my baby eating enough?" For us — and yes, every baby is different — he ate about 500 mL per day in the early days and has since ramped up to anywhere between 1 L and 1.5 L. (We're not always super diligent about tracking this, so some of the dips would just be because we missed entering a feeding or two.)

This chart is my favourite, though – average sleep per day in hours, compared to the longest period of sleep per day.

Initially, the kid slept for close to 20 hours a day, with the longest stretch of sleep in the four-hour range. These days he sleeps far less overall – around 13 or 14 hours a day — but his longest stretch of sleep is approaching (and sometimes exceeding) ten hours. Pretty good!

Some day, I assume, we will stop tracking all this. I do not anticipate a scenario where I am one day logging that 18-year-old Freddie drank a Coke Zero and had some chicken wings for dinner. But I don't think the day we delete the BabyConnect app will be coming anytime soon. It's been an unexpected but useful tool for getting us through the first few months of parenthood, with the data helping us to find a little order in all the chaos.