Baby-by-Number: Parents' New Obsession With Data

Photo: Baby-by-Number: Parents? New Obsession With Data

Allen Fawcett admits he and his wife are mildly addicted to keeping track of their babies' schedules. The pair of economists have been recording every diaper, feeding and nap since they became parents.

With the help of the Trixie Tracker website, they know they've changed exactly 7,367 diapers for their three-year-old son and 969 for their three-month-old daughter. They also have a graph of precisely how many minutes each of their children slept on nearly every day since birth.

During their daughter's first month, the data shows she averaged 15 hours of sleep a day, which is two hours more than her brother at the same age and well above average for other Trixie Tracker babies.

"People look at us and say, 'My goodness, how do you spend so much time on this?'" Fawcett said. "But each record takes just a few iPhone clicks, so it's really not as time-consuming as it looks."

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The Fawcett family may take schedule tracking to the extreme, but they're certainly not the only parents who are measuring, recording and comparing minute details of their kids' lives.

Fifteen years ago, tracking your baby's development meant going to the pediatrician every few months and recording his growth on a simple height and weight chart. Today, baby tracking is a booming business.

Web Sites, iPhone Apps and More Monitor Infants' Progress

In addition to websites that let you track your infant's schedule, there are iPhone apps that translate and record your baby's cries, wearable devices that keep track of how much you talk to your child, and even electronic toys that record how your child plays with them, so you can compare his progress to developmental norms.

Kids and Television Dont Mix
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As a soon-to-be mom expecting my first child in less than a month, I sympathize with the desire to keep close tabs on a baby. Almost the instant a second line appeared on my pregnancy pee stick, I found myself seized by a strong desire to make sure my baby was developing normally.

I managed to refrain from buying a home Doppler device to monitor my kid's heartbeat, and I skipped the special Kickbee belt that detects fetal kicks and tweets every time baby wiggles in the womb. But once my first son makes his appearance, I know I'll be tempted to try some of the infant-tracking technology. Who wouldn't want more ways to record their child's health and well-being?

According to pediatricians and child development experts, however, this new obsession with quantifying our kids has a potential downside, especially when parents cross the line from merely tracking an infant's schedule to obsessing over developmental milestones and worrying about how baby measures up to her peers.

"As a pediatrician and researcher, I applaud anything that gets parents more interested in their child's development," said Dimitri Christakis of the University of Washington, who studies the impact of technology on early childhood. "But I would hate to find out that a parent is spending an hour a day entering data on their child's development, especially if that hour of data entry comes at the expense of spending an hour with your kid, or an hour somehow recharging your battery so you're better able to engage with them in the future."

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