New era of parenting: raising kids with tech as part of their selves

A man and a woman, conception of a fetus, nine months of pregnancy, a newborn. This is a standard scheme of how human babies have been coming into this life for ages. Now, when technologies are constantly reformulating our everyday lives, are they also reaching out into the basics of our existence, the way we develop from the very first day after the fusion of gametes? How can women make the most from their pregnancy and make it a yet more remarkable experience? How is the baby’s life in the very first days getting enhanced by science and gadgets? The next generation will be not just influenced by tech, it is already born with tech as part of its DNA.

Pregnancy: does it need any tweaks?

Now that almost all DNA secrets are revealed and scientists have learnt how to influence these basics, we are entering a new era of human. The traditional approaches to conceiving and bearing babies have been significantly transformed with in vitro fertilisation and surrogate motherhood, but so far the fundamental concept has been the same when it comes to general practice—there had to be one mother’s and one father’s biological material (cloning is out of the question). Soon this will be changed as well.

These days, the reproductive technology that allows to make babies with three genetic parents (two mothers, one father) is being researched and discussed. This approach lets transfer nuclear DNA from an egg cell of a woman with mitochondrial defects into the egg cell of an IVF donor of a “normal mitochondrial” egg before a donor’s sperm is used to fertilize the egg. In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration convened initial public hearings around the theme of so-called oocyte modification (three-parent IVF) on February 25-26 before an advisory committee. On February 27, the UK Department of Health also announced its decision to launch a three-month public comment period on draft legislation that would legalize this practice. Over some time, this three-parent IVF option may evolve into a not just medical, but a social option as well, providing lesbian couples with an opportunity to have a common child.

Mothers-to-be, supported by technology

Indeed, with the rise of tech, the women who want to conceive via a traditional method and track their body’s changes now have a selection of apps that help with it. Getting ready for pregnancy and being pregnant, especially for the first time, is a daunting, somewhat magical experience. Today women can monitor it with every day apps that draw an accurate picture of how their body is getting ready for this maternity stage and how a new life starts developing inside them.

For instance, the Ovia Fertility iPhone app, developed by Harvard scientists and the leading fertility experts, lets women get a deeper insight into the analyzed data of their body’s processes to choose the best moment for a successful conception. The Ovia Pregnancy app helps mothers-to-be track their pregnancy and learn how their everyday behavior affects their body changes and fetal development. The app also provides female users with feedback on their pregnancy nutrition, physical activity and more.

A similar app, Glow, also shares a range of recommendations, alerts and suggestions to help women get pregnant naturally. What makes the Glow app truly unique is that it offers money in case it doesn’t help. Users are encouraged to join the Glow First, world’s first fertility funding community and donate $50 a month—if after a time lag of 10 months a participant doesn’t get pregnant in a natural way, she gets the money back along with a share of the contributions previously made by women who have conceived in the middle of their 10-month journey. These funds are paid by an accredited clinic of a user’s choice for her future fertility treatment.

Bellabeat, a costly ($129) interactive system for expecting mothers allows them to connect with their yet unborn babies and then share this wonderful experience with the world. The system that includes an app and physical gear that allows to listen to and record the unborn baby’s heartbeat, track its movement, keep a Kickcounter Chart, as well as start the prenatal care and also keep a pregnancy diary.

The effect of healthy food on the baby’s growth is undisputable, and this principle has been ingrained in the foundation of the idea behind the Nü gadget. The portable personal nutritionist, developed by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service is designed for women who can’t afford buying food in farmer markets but still want to eat healthy. “By using BMI, current stage in pregnancy and pre-existing health conditions of the mother, Nü is able to intelligently create weekly shopping lists tailored to her specific nutritional needs,” says the page of the gadget. It scans the grocery items in the store, highlights the nutritional values of the foods, the amount of important elements and vitamins a woman should consume per meal weekly, sends reminders and snack suggestions, and more. Plus, the gadget also measures the expecting mothers’ blood pressure, temperature, and other natural indicators, all to make the tips personalized and as valuable as possible.

Baby design: life boosted with tech from the start

Today, parents can not only see, but also hold their yet unborn baby thanks to the 3D-printing technology. The team behind the 3D Babies project recreates the fetus ultrasound scans into a baby sculpture that resembles the facial features and the body position of the upcoming baby. The sculptures can be printed in three colors—light, medium and dark. Similar service is provided by the Australian clinic Gogus—pregnant women can buy Little Cupids 3D portraits, ultrasound scans of fetuses recreated as figurines that can be framed as actual pictures.

Wearable technology not only looks chick on babies, it also can help save their lives. A revolutionary breathing sensor system for infant clothing was created by a research team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Berlin to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The clothing pieces go with a stretchable printed circuit belt that is crafted from polyurethane. This circuit monitors the breathing activity and sends an alert to the parents when the baby stops breathing, so that parent could deliver immediate help in time, when precious seconds count. The Sproutling tech ankle is a combination of NikeFuel and environmental monitor for babies. The band is designed to monitor a baby and environment around him or her as well. The device reads the baby’s skin temperature and heart rate along with the room temperature, humidity and light levels. The data is then sent to an app in the format of clear and crisp iconography that says if “things are OK” or “things are not OK.”

Smart Diapers by Pixie Scientific go further than tracking the vitals—they analyze a baby’s urine to get a deeper insight into his or her health conditions. The smart diaper, which is now in its test stage, features a QR-like patch on the front that is packed with reagents that interact with the baby’s urine—the patch changes the color if the level of protein is abnormal. A parent can scan the patch with a smartphone and the app that goes with the diapers, analyzes the data, telling if the baby’s kidneys are healthy, if the infant is dehydrated or even if she or he has Type 1 diabetes. If the results are not good, the app advises parents to take the baby to a physician.

Wearables for babies range from the Guardian app that help find the baby lost in a crowd to the FiLIP smart-watch to name just a few.

Today, innovation emerges in non-wearable area as well. The Sense infant’s bottle, bowl, and spoon set, which has got the 2013 Red Dot Design award, tells parents how hot or cold the food is. The pieces use thermochromic material to give parents a sense of the temperature of the food they contain. If the food is cold, the coating will be blue, and if it’s hot, it goes red—the perfect temperature, 38 degrees, the thermo material will be rosy.

Education starts early: digital-savvy babies

The influence of multiple gadgets and screens on a baby’s brain is a hot topic now, but the cohesion between kids and tech is obvious today.

A Kickstarter-funded book titled “Hello, Rubi” teaches 4-7 year-olds how to code. The book that features vivid hand-painted illustrations explaining various programming languages and operating systems to future scientists. The protagonist of the book, a girl who looks like Pippi Longstocking, tells about sequences, variables, loops, conditionals and operators as well as coding ethics and the creative philosophy.

Another Kickstarter project, Strawbees, has just raised funds to teach younger kids the basics of physics, modeling and architecture, using simple everyday objects like soda straws. The team behind the Strawbees kits generated $90K instead of $20K requested to produce simple kits that allow to build huge mechanical objects using just standard straws and cardboard.

Celebrating modern parenthood

Expecting a baby might be a tough experience, especially if a woman is influenced by a plethora of negative factors ranging from family problems to her addictions. Kristen Bornhorst from Los Angeles has developed a documentary titled “Sobering Thought”  about four women who were pregnant while being addicted to drugs and alcohol. She recodred footage and then raised funds on Kickstarter to finish the editing process.

Technology allows fathers to feel the joys of pregnancy as well. Huggies developed a set of belts for both parents, that captured the movements of the fetus in inside the mom and transmitted these kicks to the belt placed onto the dad’s belly. Dove Men+Care rolled out a series of spots celebrating fathers’ involvement into the life of kids through a series of mini “Care for what matters” life stories of kids and dads’ interaction.

Today, raising a kid might be as challenging as never before. Developing technology may benefit as well as bring new problems that don’t have any solutions yet. Parents have to choose intuition over experience, just because the experience of yesteryear is already nearly worthless in the world where kids start to communicate with dads before they are actually born, who eat in front of iPads in the age of 10 months, start coding before learning the alphabet, and more. We can’t accurately predict how tech will shape minds of our kids. But we can explore this new world together,  sharing the most diverse and positive experience possible with them.

About the Author

Anna Rudenko is News Editor and Features Writer at Popsop, where she covers philanthropy, future technology and the environmental pulse of the globe. She is an art films aficionado, crafter, avid vegetarian, and sustainability enthusiast who does her best to bring positive change into the world around.