The following discussion describes the types of digital media that the women reported using, how they used these media and the judgements in which they engaged when assessing their usefulness and credibility. Nine characteristics of digital media information were identified from the focus group discussions; namely, information that was 1) immediate; 2) regular; 3) detailed; 4) entertaining; 5) customised; 6) practical; 7) professional; 8) reassuring; and 9) unbiased.
A key finding from the focus groups was the participants’ constant use of search engines – and in particular, Google – to look for information about pregnancy and parenting on the internet. The women valued the opportunity that their mobile devices afforded them to go online at any time and in any location to seek such information or ask for advice. They talked about their incessant online searching, including in the middle of the night if they were worried about an issue concerning their pregnancy or their children. Women with the care of infants, for example, discussed how they could use their smartphone to search online while feeding their infants or supervising their play. Caring and online access could take place simultaneously.
The women appreciated immediate access to information from a wide variety of sources: ‘For me who likes a lot of opinions, I can go to Google something and get 50 answers straight away, whereas I’d have to read 50 books to get the same information.’ They noted that conducting an initial online search was often how they were led to parenting websites: ‘I tend to just Google the problem and just see what comes up. And the ones that come up are Baby Center, KidsHealth Central Baby …’
The instantaneous nature of this access to information was favourably compared with the wait that women may have to talk to healthcare professionals. Participants noted that they sometimes felt that they did not want to ‘bother’ healthcare professionals with queries that might be considered trivial. In these cases, the ability to go online or consult an app could provide the women with reassurance quickly and often anonymously. They noted that ‘even if it was the middle of the night’ online sources could provide advice whereas they would be reluctant to disturb a family member, friend or healthcare professional. The view was evident in the following exchange between participants in one focus group:
Participant: When you’re freaking out – “What is this?” – you can type in quickly and you get the information straight away, rather than calling a midwife and, waiting for them to get back to you.
Participant: You can do it quite easily.
Participant: And you don’t have to pester anyone, like you don’t have to call your mum, or –
Participant: So it’s much easier, you’re not a burden on anyone.
Another feature of digital media that relates to the immediacy of information was the ways in which many websites, apps and social media deliver information regularly to users, without requiring their intervention. Such information is not actively sought by users but is sent to them via such features as electronic newsletters that they may have signed up to or notifications from apps or social media updates. Many said that they enjoyed receiving information from apps and websites based on their stage of pregnancy or the age of their infants, either as weekly newsletters or as daily or weekly notifications: ‘it just pops up on your phone’, as one woman put it. As another participant noted, she enjoyed receiving the daily notifications from the pregnancy app that she used about her foetus’s development:
Each day there’s something different [on the app], either about your baby’s development or it will show you a little picture of basically kind of a representation of what the baby looks like, how much it weighs, what its length is – all those kinds of things.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, as noted by the participants, also allow for the regular delivery of this kind of regular information via the status updates that appear in their feeds. Thus, for example, women receive notifications from the local mothers’ groups that they have joined on Facebook about such events as meet-ups, items for sale or news items that members think will interest other members.
As well as wanting information quickly and on-demand, the focus group participants expressed their appreciation of digital sources that provided detailed information. For example, one woman described why she liked using one particular pregnancy app:
It is really cool, so you can actually go, week 29 and have a look and see what your baby’s doing and it’ll give you like a rundown of what’s happening in there. And then it also gives you a section on what’s happening in your body, so what hormones are causing what. And then it gives you a rundown of symptoms that you might be having for that week, so it might be heartburn. [It has] everything!
Digital media that provided several forms of information were valued by the participants because they did not have to spend as much time searching for details. As discussed in one group, for example, Facebook served not only as a social media networking site which they were already using for other purposes but also as a platform they could use to search for specialist groups or pages for pregnant women or mothers:
Participant: Because you’re already on Facebook, it’s one of those apps that allows you to communicate with your friends, does messaging if you need it, calendars – like it’s just one of those …
Participant: It kind of has everything
Participant: It kind of of gets to you in all different aspects.
Participant: It’s a central hub where you can then search on that and then go out. You can search for blogs, you can search for your family and keep in contact with them. Keep in contact with your parent group and all that.
Some digital media were valued as a source of entertainment, rendering the experiences of pregnancy ‘a bit more fun’, as a participant expressed it. The information provided could be reviewed at times when women were on public transport, for example, as a means of alleviating boredom:
It’s also nice to sit on the train and you’ve got all little tips and other mother’s groups, and forums and stuff you can go on as well. And cute little articles about baby names or whatever. It’s more of a distraction.
Parenting websites, blogs and apps have become increasingly interconnected and commercialised, and the most popular social media platforms offer many opportunities for pregnancy or parenting-related entertainment and commercial activity. There were relationships between information and commercial enterprises in many of the digital media used by participants. Several women talked about using platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Etsy or Instagram for entertainment purposes, such as viewing baby clothes and other products for infants or pregnant women to see what styles or brands were available and features offered by products:
I actually use Instagram to follow other people and companies as well, stuff like that. Like clothes, or just different ideas that inspire you about child development or even just dressing a child. Actually it’s the only baby app I use. I follow heaps of pregnant mums and pictures of pregnancy. And then baby clothing, you know, heaps of baby stuff. I don’t have any of the other apps for a baby.
Some women also used photo apps and platforms like Instagram to take and share images of their infants:
I have PicCollage [an app], which makes collages of photos, and Instagram which I use all the time. And then there’s a nice one that I use for my baby as well, which is Magisto. It’s like an editing thing it puts music over photos and videos, so it’s like – so I send videos to the family that are really nice of the baby.
Platforms like Pinterest and Instagram were used by some women to make decisions about their purchases for pregnancy or their children and to purchase goods online. Many parenting websites and apps also provided such information, including features such as shopping guides or checklists for pregnant women preparing for birth. Women who used these websites enjoyed the details that they were able to access while browsing, noting that these activities contributed to the excitement of expecting and prepared for a baby.
Participants also talked about the value they placed on the customised and personalised nature of information they received from apps and online media. The use of apps to monitor feeding and sleeping patterns of infants was popular, as they provided detailed information about individual babies’ habits. First-time mothers particularly appreciated these types of apps. According to one such mother, her breastfeeding app meant she could keep track of which breast to use and how much milk her infant was taking in:
I just could not for the life of me remember – because I was breastfeeding, left breast, right breast. I didn’t ever get really full, like completely, so I could never tell left, right, how long it was. You know, I was always wondering — is [the baby] getting enough milk? Because it was all new and you don’t know what you are doing. The app was constantly just always there and it was really easy: it was just tap on, tap off.
It is interesting to note that when they were discussing the ideal type of digital technology for pregnancy and parenting, several women noted that they would like to use apps or wearable tracking devices for themselves or their infants that would generate detailed information about them. One woman, for example, described her desire for a wearable digital technology that she could place on her baby to monitor its sleeping patterns, heart rate and body temperature. Such technologies offer users the opportunity to track their pregnancies or their children even more closely, providing unique personalised information.
Many participants also wanted to be able to use apps or other digital media that could provide localised information for them, such as groups for pregnant women or mothers with young children that they could join in their area of residence, childcare services, activities for children and hospitals and birthing centres:
Later on in pregnancy, it would be nice to have an app that would be able to tell you where all the mother’s groups are, or where the breastfeeding groups are in your area. And maybe how many people go to them, or how easy it is to get into them.
Another feature of information offered by apps and online media that women discussed as valuable was its intimacy, or its capacity to contribute to social relationships by sharing personal details. This was particularly the case for online fora offered by some of the pregnancy and parenting apps, websites and social media platforms that they consulted. The participants spoke about the importance of being able to exchange details of their experiences with other mothers and seek their advice if needed.
I went and did a parenting course at hospital, and we formed a Facebook group. So that’s been really helpful afterwards. There’s been parents that have had their kids already, so you can talk to them about birth and what they’re been going through. That’s been pretty good, and you can ask questions.
Sometimes women want to discuss a topic that they consider private or sensitive and therefore perhaps not easy to raise with family members or healthcare professionals. Online fora that provide anonymity and the opportunity to discuss these kinds of issues with other mothers are valued here. A participant used the example of sexual activity during pregnancy:
I think another issue is sex – having sex since the first time when you know you’re pregnant, and all that kind of stuff, which is stuff that you might not want to talk to your mum about. And it’s good, really honest responses.
This exchange of information was a way of establishing and developing social relationships. In some cases, enduring friendships were developed in these fora, even if women did not know each other’s real names. Online media such as closed Facebook pages for local mothers’ groups could build on and extend these friendships by facilitating the organisation of face-to-face meetings. Information about the best local activities and venues for parents of young children could be exchanged on these fora, again in some instances leading to meetings at these places. Here, the practice of seeking or contributing to online information was represented as a form of connection, a way of dealing with the isolation and lack of social support to which many women referred.
Several participants said they experienced the notifications that they received from apps or websites about their foetuses or children as a way of connecting with and establishing a relationship with them. For example, several pregnant women spoke about their feelings of ‘excitement’ in monitoring how their foetuses were developing each week and that these details made the pregnancy seem more ‘real’ to them, especially in the early days of their pregnancy. As one woman noted, ‘It’s kind of nice – it gives you a nice fuzzy feeling’.
For many of the women, advice they received from online media helped them in practical ways to learn about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Several women said that they had used fertility monitoring apps to help them conceive and continued to use pregnancy and parenting apps and websites to learn about how to prepare for childbirth and feed and care for newborn infants and toddlers.
YouTube and a number of parenting websites were frequently mentioned as places where many ‘how to’ videos could be found about birth or caring for infants. These videos were made both by other parents and healthcare professionals. The women who used these sources noted that a feature that they found useful was the ability to review the information again and again, unlike when they are shown to do something in face-to-face situations. They could view such activities as feeding or nappy changing techniques or find activities to do with their children:
YouTube’s really good. You can just go in and search, and then you find the video. And then it’s a real live person saying “This is how I do it.” And so it’s quite good to watch. Because you can play it back, like several times, because you kind of feel bad when someone says “You swaddle it this way” and you’re trying to take it in. And you’re like, “Okay, I didn’t get any of that!” But with a video you can do it at your own pace and go back, and see how they do it.
While participants expressed appreciation for the advice that other parents could provide, their discussions of the information that they sought in apps or online revealed their desire for greater access to the advice and support of healthcare professionals or respected organisations such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
When they were discussing the digital media they would ideally like to have access to, many women observed that they would appreciate a technology offering a live question-and-answer online forum or video call with healthcare experts such as midwives, paediatricians or child nurses so that users could request expert advice and receive answers immediately. A discussion among participants in one focus group illustrates this feature:
Participant: It would be nice if there were an online doctor, one that you can chat to instantaneously.
Participant: But just a midwife or someone that’s 24/7 where you can just type in your question –
Participant: Or Skype, where you can actually chat online with them.
Here the desire for immediacy of information was again evident, coupled with women’s valuing of professional expertise.
Digital sources were used by participants to provide reassurance and support when they felt worried about issues to do with their pregnancy or their infants. For example, apps related to infant development were viewed as allowing women to understand their infants’ behaviour better and providing reassurance that their infants were not atypical or problematic if they cried a lot or that their mothering skills were deficient. Pregnancy self-tracking apps allowed women to record their health and the development of their pregnancy and compare their details to expected norms.
Online discussion fora allowed women to seek reassurance from women who had experienced similar events or problems. As two women in one focus group said of the information they accessed online when they were pregnant:
Participant: It puts your mind at ease, and you want to know that you’re normal, and everything’s normal, and you’re going to have a normal pregnancy, you know.
Participant: Like the online forums are good, because it’s nice, even though like a midwife, someone might say to you, “Oh, everyone gets a bit depressed during pregnancy,” or whatever, there’s actual evidence of people saying “I felt like this, I felt like that.”
Most participants also noted that access to online information helped them when they were feeling isolated, with no-one else to turn to for help. An immigrant to Australia whose family members were all many thousands of kilometres away commented: “I don’t have any family or anything [nearby], so I use Google to answer everything I needed. You know, “What do I do here?” Because I don’t have a mum.” In contrast, information sources that created or exacerbated rather than alleviated anxiety tended to be avoided by the women. Thus, for example, some participants discussed how they actively avoiding seeking out and viewing childbirth videos on YouTube when they were pregnant because they did not want to become overly worried about their own impending birth. As one woman commented of YouTube, ‘You don’t want to see horrible horror stories of people giving birth and stuff!’
Several participants were aware that many websites and apps for pregnancy and parenting are supported by commercial companies. For example, a few women mentioned the Huggies app. While they found this app useful, they were aware that it was sponsored by a nappy company. They noted that they needed to be wary of the information that the app provided because of its ‘hidden agenda’, as one woman put it, to market their products. Some women actively avoided the use of these types of digital media because of their commercial nature.
The women were also aware that their online searches or use of sites such as Facebook identified them to advertisers as expecting a baby or mothering young children. One woman, for example, observed that: ‘my Facebook feed has changed a lot since I started researching pregnancy and babies, so it’s a lot of baby-related advertising coming up on Facebook.’ Many women also demonstrated awareness that when they searched online, often the sites that rank first do so because they have paid Google to achieve this ranking rather than for their popularity. Compared to these kinds of websites, those online sources or apps that had government backing, such as health department websites for parents, were viewed as more trustworthy.