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Apps for New Moms: Helping Hands Come at a Developmental Price

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It's hard to be nostalgic about sleep deprivation. Or about endless nursing, a fussy baby, mountains of laundry, a to-do list longer than the last book you read for pleasure and late-night runs to Walgreens for things you would easily have remembered earlier in the day if only your brain still worked like it did before -- before a baby took over your life.

We've all been there.

Even so, my heart sinks a little at the steady drum roll of media reviews promoting apps and tech toys for babies and desperate parents. Every parent has desperate moments, and we're all primed for the pitch and the promise of apps and other digital devices we're told are the new must-haves for our parenting "tool kit." But as a child psychologist and family therapist, I spend a lot of time with new parents and young families, and it seems that the more apps and digital devices fill their toolkit, the less room there is -- literally the fewer free minutes in the day -- for the kind of intimate, just-us, face-to-face moments between parent and infant that form the very essence of emotional bonding and so much more. From birth, that one-on-one tech-free interaction is building the neurological and psychological infrastructure for your baby's future capacities to listen, learn, love and feel a sense of connection and belonging in life.

One recent tech review lauded a host of new apps designed to "lend a hand" to new moms, especially in the first few months, when the round-the-clock needs of the baby preempt sleep for mom and can feel so tedious at times. We've all become tech junkies to some degree, so it's understandable that we'd reach for that fix when we're stressed out, bored, anxious or exhausted. Or just looking for some fun.

I'm all for exercising to online workouts in the living room while babies play or nap, but the lure of the screen as a pacifier for new parents, as well as for new babies, is dangerously seductive.

Here's what I mean. The reviewer wrote that "with today's digital tools, we have some benefits our parents and grandparents did not." I would say that too often these "tools" are diversions, temptations, and highly addictive distractions that your parents and grandparents didn't have to fend off!

Because the truth is that more often than not, screens pull our attention away from our babies. More than just lending an invisible hand, they distract us, entertain us and allow us to multitask to the nth degree. They entice us with efficiency and the promise of never a dull (i.e., offline) moment. But so much of the early months are all about letting go of life as you know it -- letting go of the endless entertainment, the always-on, ever-connected mode that actually disconnects us from the tender potential of the moment with our baby.

Yes! Parenting an infant can be tedious, humbling and frustrating beyond anything most competent and confident adults are used to experiencing in their 30-something life. But there is a deep underlying process that occurs in those hours of sleep deprivation, endless hours of nursing and trying to remember which poo was what... or when. When we are consumed by the details of our baby's everything, we change. We become parents psychologically, we become a "we" in the dark hours of the night as well as the light of day.

In our addiction to screens, we so quickly forget that nursing is more than just feeding; that it's not just a matter of milk, but of nourishing attention: your gaze, your breath, your voice, your touch. The same goes for tedious moments, frustrating moments, seemingly empty moments that apps tend to fill; fill them the old-fashioned way. The finger games, the silly songs, the long looks into each other's eyes, all that creates that love lock that becomes the foundation for your relationship and will carry you through many a tough moment of parenting. Babies don't need our undivided attention with each feeding or every waking minute, but they do need to feel well held, in the deepest sense. They know when we are distracted. They just do. Of course it's okay sometimes to read if you want while nursing, but a screen will lock your attention in a different way than a book or magazine. We'd like to think it doesn't matter. We tell ourselves it doesn't matter. But it does.

In those irreplaceable moments of baby's first months, let bedtime rock with the rhythm of your baby and you alone together. Channel your inner Madonna in live lullabies to your loving captive audience. Trade the iLife for the we life.