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A smart contraction tracker for pregnant women

with Molly Dickens, Head of Content & Community at Bloomlife

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On average, pregnant women go to the hospital for false alarms two to three times.

A woman’s body goes through various sensations throughout pregnancy, which is their body’s way of communicating the progression of their pregnancy. However, understanding most of these signs, like contractions, can be a puzzling experience for women, often sending them into a state of worry and wondering if they should go to the hospital—which can be timely and costly if it turns out to be a false alarm.

Bloomlife is the first pregnancy wearable that automatically tracks contractions and provides real-time data and patterns to help pregnant women and their partners interpret contractions better, reducing anxiety and taking the guesswork out of going into labour.

On this episode of HealthRedesigned, we meet Molly Dickens, the Head of Content and Community at Bloomlife. She shares how Bloomlife is helping pregnant women to better connect with their bodies and see how it’s naturally preparing them for birth—redefining the future of prenatal care.

Understanding pregnancy signals

What would you say are the most common myths about pregnancy that most pregnant women go through?

For most women, it’s the first time they’re not only growing a human inside their body, which is mind-blowing in itself, but their body is going through many changes. One of those changes is contractions where the uterine muscle goes through this huge transformation at the end to help with labour and push the baby out.

But before that, the uterus muscle has to warm up. This is called Braxton Hicks contractions which are non-labour contractions that can be really hard for women to tease apart. Before 37 weeks, you’re on the lookout for, “Am I possibly going into early labour, in which case, I really need to get a handle on this quickly” or “Is this just my body in pregnancy?”. Bloomlife helps women identify what is going on in their body by understanding, “Are these contractions? Is this the baby moving? Is this gas?”.

When contractions start happening, most run to the hospital only to be told that it’s either nothing to worry about or not even contractions, to begin with. On the other side of 37 weeks, when you’re in the clear, there can be a lot of anxiety.

“Having this at home to help them identify what they're feeling, having that second opinion from Bloomlife, all that data, and having a more informed conversation with their partner and care team, really helps them feel more comfortable with staying home or going in.”

How easy is it for women to track their contractions with Bloomlife?

The sensor snaps into a patch that sits right below the belly button. We’ve done a lot of work to make sure the patch is very sensitive to delicate pregnancy skin. The user can pull it off and on a couple times before she has to change the patch. Through Bluetooth, it syncs with the app so she can see real-time contractions in the app. The pattern of contractions is key, so she can see if the contractions are regular or irregular—regular is often a sign of labour. From there, the next question is, “What is the timing of this and are they progressing?”. After an hour of recording, she will get stats showing the average frequency and duration of her contractions.

How do you display data on the app in a way that doesn’t alarm the user?

This is always an interesting challenge. When you see one contraction come up on the screen, that’s a good learning exercise to understand what it feels like. One contraction doesn’t necessarily mean anything, that’s why we have the contraction pattern and the stats view so the user can see if they’re becoming regular and progressing.

Talking to a lot of birth educators, doctors, midwives and doulas, we learnt that tracking contractions only becomes valuable when they’ve been recorded for at least an hour. So our stats show up after a full hour has been recorded. This reminds the user that if their contractions are two minutes apart and lasting for a minute, it doesn’t mean anything if they’ve only recorded two contractions and they should record more.

Designing for every pregnancy

You spoke to a lot of moms when designing Bloomlife. What did you learn from them that you didn’t realise before?

I think that a lot of women assume that only first-time moms would need this. What has surprised me most is that some of the biggest impact we’ve had is actually for women who are not first-time moms, but who are second, third and fourth-time moms, who are unsure if they felt contractions the first time around.

One mom comes to mind who’s a fourth-time mom and who previously had very fast labours. That caused a lot of anxiety for her and her husband because their second and third births were a little bit traumatic with the speed at which they happened. It was really beneficial for her to have this information so that she wasn’t running to the hospital every time she thought she might be in labour. This gave her that peace of mind and reassurance that she could rely on herself to know when this was going to happen and to reclaim that birth story so that her fourth birth wasn’t a frightening memory.

“The thing with pregnancy is that not just every woman is different, but every pregnancy is different. It's a reminder that even if I have my own story, everybody else has their reason for coming to Bloomlife & what they're going to get out of it. ”

What were some of the key turning points during the design journey?

Personally, for me, the patch redesign was critical. We had an earlier patch that I used when I was pregnant and I was definitely a corner case. I was testing it extensively on my big pregnant belly, taking it off and on, and it started irritating my skin. It was basically tearing at the top layer of my skin. I went into the office one day with a big red patch on my belly and mentioned to the team that we have to think about corner cases like me who are going to be abusing the patch. How can we find a material that’s super gentle? Pregnant skin is so stretched and women are scratching at their bellies all the time. It’s very thin and easy to break. We had to redesign the patch with the 40-week pregnant belly in mind which was not how it was originally designed and so it was really back to the drawing board and doing a lot of tests. We had two different designs that we would send out to different beta testers. The patch that we have now is really great and gentle.

Helping women take control of their birth story

What kind of feedback have you been getting from users?

The stories we hear are always good reminders that we’re making a difference in someone’s life. To have someone who felt like they didn’t have control over their birth story tell us that now this gave them that control back. To hear from a mom of twins who is on bedrest and it was a question of, “Do I have to be on bedrest in the hospital or can I comfortably be at home?”.

We’ve heard from women who have these “aha” moments where they all of a sudden just feel more connected to their body and their pregnancy. We get little tidbits here and there of their stories, what brought them to us and what they got out of it.

Has there been anything specific that women have come back to you with that’s influenced Bloomlife’s design?

What we built in terms of the pattern, that came from talking not to just birth educators, but also women. They want to be able to see this at a glance. Rethinking how we show the timing of contractions and having maybe a listview in there has come back from women as well. Right now, we’re really motion constricted. We know that that’s a problem and something we’re working on, and it’s always a good reminder to hear that from women.

We also hear all the time that they want it to be waterproof. That’s definitely something that’s further down the line. It’s a good reminder that women like to be in the water when they’re in labour experiencing contractions. I think it’s always so valuable to keep our ears open to what our customers are saying.

Flexible usage

What was the reason behind Bloomlife’s rental model?

We’ve gone back and forth on it, in the early days especially, about whether this was going to be for sale or rent and a lot of that actually came from our customers. Women say, “What if I only want this for 4 weeks?” or “What if I want this for 6 weeks even 8 weeks?”. Sometimes, they might not know if they need it for their next pregnancy or don’t even know if they want to have another pregnancy.

Having that feedback and testing that idea made it clear to us that a rental model would be the easiest and best way to get this into as many hands as we could. We still have people who ping us and ask if they can buy it. But for the most part, the rental model really works well and we can see this big range of how long people want it for, from that 4-week mark all the way through for a full trimester.

Is there anything you’d like to share with our listeners who are pregnant or their partners?

It’s so important for a woman and her partner to remember the fact that she’s not just a woman with a baby inside, but she’s becoming a mother. I think that that gets swept into the medical side of pregnancy, for her and the world around her—taking a moment to realise that this is something bigger than just this medical moment. They’re welcoming their child into the world and that’s really huge. She should feel empowered to be a mom even in pregnancy before the baby’s out in the world.

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