App targets helping new generation of moms-to-be on breastfeeding and more

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AURORA | Between diapers, sleepless nights and constant visits from the in-laws, the first few weeks of their new baby’s life can be among the most stressful for new moms.

But even a stressed-out new mom trying to navigate the brand-new world of motherhood can snag a few seconds to peek at her phone — even if it’s well past midnight when they finally glance at their notifications. 

The ever-present connectedness smartphones offer is a driving force behind an app being developed at University of Colorado School of Medicine aimed at helping new moms breast feed.

“It’s becoming the way people are going to get their information, and get help,” said Maya Bunik, an associate professor at the medical school who is developing the app.

Bunik, who teaches pediatrics at CU and also works at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said that with just a few texts a week — whether they’re tips, factoids about the benefits or simple encouragement — can help new moms who might be struggling with breastfeeding.

Based on results from an initial study, the app — which is still in the development phase — is showing some promise, with moms who used the app breastfeeding longer and saying they felt more confident about doing it, Bunik said.

Among moms in the study who used the app, 95 percent were still breastfeeding three months after giving birth, compared with 83 percent of the moms who weren’t using the app. And 95 percent of moms using the app said they were feeding babies breastmilk more than 80 percent of the time, compared to 78 percent of women who hadn’t used the app, according to the school.

Bunik said the app targets a generation of moms who have been using smartphones for years and are especially comfortable with them. That same generation of moms is breastfeeding a bit more than previous generations, but she said the numbers still aren’t where experts would like them to be.

“It is becoming a little more popular but it’s still not the norm like it is in other countries,” she said.

With the app, Bunik said moms sign up about six weeks before giving birth. In those weeks, they get the occasional text message aimed at encouragning them to at least consider breastfeeding, she said, and texts focused on tips once the baby arrives.

The app is also paired with a private Facebook group for mothers where Bunik posts videos with tips and where moms can talk to each other about the challenges they face.

Bunik said she monitors the Facebook group to make sure bad information isn’t spreading among the moms. For example, she said there was a lot of talk about how beneficial certain oatmeal cookies could be for milk production.

Bunik chimed in on that conversation to point out that while the cookies might help, moms really need to stick to their pumping regimen if they want to see results.

And, as is often the case on social media, Bunik said the Facebook page sometimes became a place for moms to vent. That’s generally okay, she said, but the worry is too much negativity about pain from breastfeeding or other difficulties could discourage other moms.

In the next round of studies — which Bunik said will feature close to 200 moms, which is three times the size of the initial study — Bunik said she hopes to have one group getting just texts and another using the Facebook group to see which proves most effective.

CU released findings about the study on the app last week, the same week when another CU study showed further evidence of the benefits of breast milk to newborns.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed hormones in breast milk may impact the development of healthy bacteria in infants’ guts, potentially protecting them from intestinal inflammation, obesity and other diseases later in life, the university said in a statement.

“This is the first study of its kind to suggest that hormones in human milk may play an important role in shaping a healthy infant microbiome,” Bridget Young, co-first author and assistant professor of pediatric nutrition at CU Anschutz, said in the statement. “We’ve known for a long time that breast milk contributes to infant intestinal maturation and healthy growth. This study suggests that hormones in milk may be partly responsible for this positive impact through interactions with the infant’s developing microbiome.”