Background: Health mobile applications (apps) have become very popular, including apps specifically designed to support women during the ante- and post-natal periods. However, there is currently limited evidence for the effectiveness of such apps at improving pregnancy and parenting outcomes. This study aims to assess the effectiveness of a pregnancy and parenting app, Baby Buddy, in improving maternal self-efficacy at 3 months post-birth.
Methods: Participants were 16 years old or over, first-time mothers, 12-16 weeks gestation, recruited by midwives from five English study sites. The Tool to Measure Parenting Self-Efficacy (TOPSE) (primary outcome) was used to compare mothers at 3 months post-birth who had downloaded the Baby Buddy app with those who had not downloaded the app, controlling for confounding factors.
Results: Four hundred and eighty-eight participants provided valid data at baseline (12-16 weeks gestation), 296 participants provided valid data at 3 months post-birth, 114 (38.5%) of whom reported that they had used the Baby Buddy app. Baby Buddy app users were more likely to use pregnancy or parenting apps (80.7% vs. 69.6%, P=0.035), more likely to have been introduced to the app by a healthcare professional (P=0.005) and have a lower median score for perceived social support (81 vs. 83, P=0.034) than non-app users. The Baby Buddy app did not elicit a statistically significant change in TOPSE scores from baseline to 3 months post-birth [adjusted odds ratio (OR) 1.12, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.59 to 2.13, P=0.730]. Finding out about the Baby Buddy app from a healthcare professional appeared to grant no additional benefit to app users compared to all other participants in terms of self-efficacy at 3 months post-birth (adjusted OR 1.16, 95% CI: 0.60 to 2.23, P=0.666). There were no statistically significant differences in the TOPSE scores for the in-app data, in terms of passive use of the app between high and low app users (adjusted OR 0.82, 95% CI: 0.21 to 3.12, P=0.766), nor in terms of active use (adjusted OR 0.47, 95% CI: 0.12 to 1.86, P=0.283).
Conclusions: This study is one of few, to date, that has investigated the effectiveness of a pregnancy and early parenthood app. No evidence for the effectiveness of the Baby Buddy app was found. New technologies can enhance traditional healthcare services and empower users to take more control over their healthcare but app effectiveness needs to be assessed. Further work is needed to consider: (I) how we can best use this new technology to deliver better health outcomes for health service users and, (II) methodological issues of evaluating digital health interventions.