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The rising stars of pregnancy apps

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One of the fastest growth drivers in feminine health technology is apps. From period-tracking to women’s fitness, online nannies and menopause support, femtech apps are bringing their A-game. The biggest players? Pregnancy apps. With 385,000 babies born every day, pregnancy is big business. Those kinds of figures are hard to ignore and the tech industry is listening.

Engaging with pregnancy apps is becoming a routine part of the maternal experience. There are hundreds of options available, from simple growth trackers to medical advisors, social communities and the answers to any question you could ever think of.

BabyCentre is one of the most popular. It is an award-winning platform with millions of unique users and is, according to Forbes, the best pregnancy tracking app out there.

The user not only gets 3D renderings of their baby’s development in the womb but also access to a social network connected to other expectant women, along with a whole host of related information and resources.

It is available in five languages and any health information is approved by its own Medical Advisory Board and certified by the NHS England Information Standard.

Trackers like BabyCentre make up the bulk of the app market, but they are just one of the options available.

Pregnancy and motherhood can be lonely, so having a group of people to offer support often makes a big difference.

That’s the idea behind Peanut, otherwise known as the Tinder for expectant mothers, which comes in at a respectable number nine on the GoodHousekeeping list of the 18 best pregnancy apps. Peanut enables users to connect with people in the same area who are also going through similar circumstances, be that pregnancy, menopause or motherhood.

It has thousands of users across the globe and Founder and CEO Michelle Kennedy believes they must ensure no woman has to figure it out on their own.

Expectful is another big name on the circuit. The app aims to be a one-stop-shop for affordable, accessible and enjoyable maternal wellness support and boasts specialists in lactation, sleep, nutrition, mental health and fertility.

Within the app are meditations, events such as fitness classes and live Q&As, and drop-in support groups. The app is another of those featured on Good Housekeeping’s 18 best pregnancy apps.

What To Expect hits the top-rated lists for a few publications, including Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan, and Forbes. It is a very popular app that not only offers a weekly pregnancy tracker but also supports users in the first year of parenthood and beyond.

It advises on products, such as car seats and pushchairs, where it links community reviews and puts them into ‘best of’ lists. Ever wondered where the ’16 weeks, the size of a cherry’ comparison comes from? You can thank What To Expect for that.

With Glow, both the user and their partner can use the app to track the pregnancy together.

There are birth stories, bump pictures and product reviews via the community, as well as appointment reminders, and pregnancy stats.

It also links with Apple Health and My Fitness Pal for full integration.

Also highly rated and providing very similar services are the likes of Sprout, Ovia, Hello Belly and The Bump.

Ultimately, the app a user chooses comes down to personal preference, whether that be the services it provides, the interface or content type.

Why are they so popular?

Pregnancy is a complex time. It brings excitement and fear bundled together with babygrows, nurseries and week-by-week fruit comparisons – and it is a multi-million-pound industry.

And while questions may be raised over marketing to women at a uniquely vulnerable time of their lives, the fact remains that knowledge is power – and that’s what pregnancy apps are sharing.

The breadth and depth of support pregnancy apps offer blow traditional healthcare out of the water. Most are either free with ads or have a subscription fee, which is a small price to pay for access to an extensive support network on demand.

With an ever-increasing user base, apps have the potential to change maternal care and experiences of pregnancy for the better.

Given their popularity and the rising number of users, there is a very real potential for traditional healthcare to adopt or recommend apps into routine care. Bridging the gap between technology and health information would have an enormous impact on the provision of healthcare.

For some users, apps may be more accessible than traditional healthcare. For others, they may provide a community of people going through the same experience. And for others, they can offer answers to questions they may have.

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Fertility

Fertility: The fear, grief and relief in accessing mental health support

90 per cent of those struggling to conceive are likely to experience depression symptoms of some kind

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As research shows that women with infertility experience similar levels of anxiety and depression to those with cancer, heart disease and HIV, we find out how to get the balance right when trying to conceive.

The relationship between stress and infertility has been repeatedly debated. Although the impact of distress on treatment outcome is unclear, stress, depression and anxiety are common consequences of infertility.

According to NICE, one in seven heterosexual couples in the UK may have difficulty conceiving. But despite the prevalence of infertility, research has shown that couples often shy away from sharing their story and “fake good” in order to appear mentally healthier than they are, thus increasing their psychological vulnerability.

“The lack of scientific knowledge has meant that the correlation between fertility and mental health support has been largely ignored,” says Mithi Thaya, CEO of the London-based health tech company Harper.

“Women who undergo fertility treatment are highly stressed. However, in most cases, nobody looks after their mental well-being because the clinicians and nurses either don’t have the time or are not well equipped to do so.”

A Fertility Network UK survey on the impact of fertility problems found that only 44 per cent of women received counselling with 54 per cent of them funding some of the sessions themselves.

Existing solutions are often too costly for clinics to implement, says Thaya. “In order to offer counselling, a clinic has to go through both a fertility and a reproductive medicine regulator.

“On top of that, self-reporting – the current gold standard in mental health assessment – can be unreliable simply because people may not be aware of certain mental health issues they might have.”

Along with the team behind Harper, Thaya aims to make mental healthcare more objective and affordable through molecular biology and technology for earlier accurate detection.

The practice, also known as precision medicine, looks at the genetics, environment, and lifestyle of a person and offers a personalised treatment, in contrast to the traditional one-size-fits-all approach to prevention and care.

Reports have shown that giving the right treatment to the right person at the right time leads to better outcomes for patients and can additionally reduce the costs and the risk of adverse effects.

“Your behaviour, your tone of voice, your eye pattern, some of the hormones you produce in your body and the way you feel could be indicators of your state of mental health,” the CEO explains.

“So, we aggregate all of these data points in a seamless, non-invasive manner through a number of clinically validated digital assessments, we give each patient a personalised plan and then we assign them a fertility-trained coach.”

Coaches help couples learn to express their feelings, navigate their IVF cycles and feel more in control. However, a coach is not a counsellor, says Thaya.

“There’s a big difference between our coaches and having a counsellor. Counselling often helps with serious issues, including severe mental health challenges and trauma. But although therapy has its place, when it comes to fertility treatment, we realised that the last thing a patient wants is somebody to open the Pandora’s box of everything that has been going wrong in their life.

“Coaching, on the other hand, is there to help them achieve their goal. The coaches are either IVF nurses or patient administrators who have previously worked in an IVF setting and are able to deal with patients on a human level.”

Demand for mental health support has significantly increased post pandemic. Reports have found that 90 per cent of those struggling with fertility are likely to experience depression symptoms of some kind while 42 per cent are likely to report suicidal thoughts.

However, the mental health sector remains unexplored. Meta analyses have shown that mental health has received “an inadequate proportion of health funding”, in comparison with the burden it causes while stigma, human resource shortages, fragmented service delivery models and a lack of research capacity for implementation and policy change contribute to the current treatment gap.

Thaya hopes that by working with scientists companies like Harper will drive more research and investment in solutions targeting mental health.

“We are very fortunate to partner with experts from the University of Chicago, Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London and our goal is to do a joint study with them to analyse the data from the clinics we work with and improve patient support.”

After in April it raised US$6.5m to address AI-based mental healthcare, the start-up is planning to expand geographically and explore other health sectors, including cardiovascular disease and oncology.

“We know that people who live with different mental health conditions, such as chronic stress, clinical anxiety or depression, have a two times higher rate of cardiovascular disease,” says Thaya.

“Our ambition is to be able to identify patients’ state of mental wellbeing at the right time and deliver the right interventions.”

 

 

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UNFPA appeals for £10.7 million for critical women healthcare in Sri Lanka

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UNFPA, the United Nations Sexual and Reproductive Health Agency, has launched an appeal to deliver better healthcare to women in Sri Lanka.

The appeal aims to deliver lifesaving healthcare to more than two million women and girls in Sri Lanka in the next six months, as the country is experiencing its worst socio-economic crisis since independence.

A lack of medical equipment and medicine is causing a collapse in the medical system which is having a severe impact on the delivery of reproductive and sexual health services. This includes maternity care and access to contraception.

The UNFPA reports that protection mechanisms for girls and women in need have also been severely compromised.

“The current economic crisis in Sri Lanka has far-reaching consequences for women and girls’ health, rights and dignity,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA executive director. “Right now, UNFPA’s priority is to respond to their unique needs and safeguard their access to lifesaving healthcare and protection services.”

The UN agency estimates that 60,000 pregnant Sri Lankan women may require surgical interventions over the next six months. 

In response to this, UNFPA plans to distribute medicines, equipments and supplies to meet the health needs of 1.2 million people.

It will also provide more than 37,000 women with cash and voucher assistance for reproductive health and protection services; ensure that 500,000 women receive information on warning signs during pregnancy; and strengthen the capacity of 1,250 midwives.

“UNFPA is committed to meeting the critical health and protection needs of women and girls,: said Kunle Adeniyi, UNFPA representative in Sri Lanka. “Our focus is to strengthen sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence response services to reduce the long-term repercussions of the the current crisis.”

Sri Lanka is currently experiencing its worse socio-economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948. 

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Nike launches online maternity training programme

The athletic giant aims to help new mums get back into sport

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Nike has revealed a global maternity training programme, amid high rates of dropout from exercise due to pregnancy.

The new Nike Training Club app programme features a prenatal and postpartum exercise plan with 24 workouts that include strength, cardio, mobility and yoga movements.

The company said the workouts were designed by qualified trainers and vetted by a panel consisting of five pregnancy experts, as well as an OB/GYN, covering early pregnancy, later pregnancy and postpartum.

Additionally, the programme includes a six-week deep core and pelvic floor recovery plan designed by a pelvic health physical therapist, safe to start in the early days after delivery.

The training club also covers topics like exercising during fertility treatment, eating well throughout pregnancy, exercising when breastfeeding as well as guided runs tailored to each trimester.

According to research from the OB/GYN Online Library, pregnancy is the second most common reason why people quit exercising.

Because pregnancy is such an intense transitional period in a person’s life — physically, mentally, and emotionally — exercise may not be a priority for many.

However, physical activity during pregnancy has been shown to have a monumental effect on the parent’s health, delivery, and overall parenthood.

Although the Nike programme highlights the company’s latest effort to provide prenatal and postpartum support, the giant has been previously criticised over alleged unfair policies around pregnancy and pay fairness.

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