There is nothing weirder, wilder, or more magical than a baby’s movement in utero. For many mothers (it certainly was for me), the quickening, those first flutters, are the moment when a pregnancy starts to feel real, when a bump becomes a baby. And as the pregnancy progresses, with each kick and stretch and rollover, the physical and emotional connection between mother and baby grows.
Naturally, men want in.
Now in Sweden, the Scandinavian diaper brand Libero is providing a way for partners of pregnant women to share in the experience of baby’s movements. After two years of product design and development, Libero’s BabyBuzz—billed as “the world’s first pregnant bracelet”—is ready and promises to help Swedish couples “share every pregnancy more intensely,” by alerting a woman’s partner of in-utero kicks with a buzz on the wrist.
It works like this: A pregnant woman and her partner both wear smart bracelets, hers enabled with a button, her partner’s with a buzzer. When the child kicks, or punches, or hiccups, the pregnant woman pushes her button, and her partner’s bracelet vibrates. The bracelets have to be connected to an a iPhone app via Bluetooth and are actually just SMS messages—so like texts, but without the ability to communicate anything other than BZZZZ, though users have the option of sending a short or longer vibration, to replicate the intensity of the movement.
As part of the rollout, Libero released a short documentary highlighting the experiences of three product testing couples. All first-time parents, the young adults explain, with unbridled sincerity, how the constant connection of BabyBuzz has engaged them in a way that an actual text or a conversation never could:
“As a man, you feel helpless in the situation, because there’s nothing you can do. Sure I can reassure her, talk to her, maybe bring her a warm blanket or something,” one fellow says, describing, in fact, lovely ways to connect with one’s pregnant partner. But there’s something special about that vibration.
“If I can feel my wristband vibrating…It feels like I own the situation,” a track-suited, bearded, father-to-be says over tape of him running through a snow-covered landscape. “You start imagining. You haven’t been kept out by her describing it. And that…this is mine. My kick. Completely.”
Not only does the buzzing inspire a sense of ownership of the physiological phenomenon once only enjoyed by pregnant women and those with hands to place upon her, the BabyBuzz—an identifiable FitBit style bracelet, also works as signal to the world: a kind of “Ask me about my pregnancy” jewelry.
“A lot of people have come over and asked what that thing is,” one partner explains, bemoaning the fact that before his bracelet, he always had to bring up the fact that he was an expectant father first. “I always had to make an active effort,” he said.
According to Libero, the impetus for the BabyBuzz was expecting women who posted on its forums the desire for their partners to be more engaged. A follow-up survey of 4,000 Nordic parents conducted by the diaper company reported that a quarter of pregnant women felt alone during their pregnancies and six out of ten said they were more involved in the pregnancy than their partners.
This sounds nice enough, but the Swedish advertising agency who came up with the idea of BabyBuzz described the wearable’s actual purpose in less altruistic terms: “Find a way for Swedish diaper brand Libero to establish a relationship with expecting couples who are not interested in diapers yet.” In other words, create brand loyalty before there’s even a product to buy.
Corporate motives aside, problems with the BabyBuzz abound. Most glaring is the technology itself which relies solely on pregnant women to report these movements. So along with growing a human, most likely holding down a full-time job, possibly caring for other children, going to doctor’s appointments, and dealing with a grab-bag of physical ailments including aches, insomnia, and incontinence (just to name a few), mom-to-be is now tasked with fetal check-ins to make sure her partner is connected with her experience. It may be only a button to push, but that’s one more thing, one more person to constantly take care of. The documentary suggests a pregnant woman should document these kicks “in real time.” To put that kind of assignment in perspective, on average in the third trimester, that equates to an electronic communique every 12 minutes.
In 2013, American diaper brand Huggies commissioned the design of a smarter, yet more impractical product for use in a tear-jerking Father’s Day commercial. Instead of bracelets, expecting parents wore electronic belly bands. Sensors on the pregnant woman’s signaled kicks by setting off LED light bursts and vibrations on the the father’s band, corresponding to the placement and force of the movements.
But even if the responsibility for connectedness didn’t fall on a pregnant woman’s aching shoulders, the notion that mothers and their partners must feel identical sensations in order to bond is not only unattainable, it’s misguided, and to be lumped with the terrible idea of shocking fathers with electricity so they sympathize with the pain of childbirth.
As one dad in the documentary put it, “You want to do this together, you know? You don’t want to be left out.” But the truth is, you don’t get to do everything. While fathers miss out on the truly extraordinary sensation of carrying a child, they also get to sit out on the disfigurement and the hemorrhoids. Dads may not get the belly conversation piece, but they also avoid having their tummy groped by strangers. Hefty vibrating bracelet or not, you too, are not pregnant.
Despite its limitations, BabyBuzz is here. Though it isn’t for sale—yet.
For now, Libero is loaning the bands out to expectant parents who sign up for their free program, and agree to return them after the birth of their baby. But Libero’s parent company, SCA, announced last year that the goal of the BabyBuzz program was a “commercial product” for Nordic markets. To be sure, Sweden is an extremely daddy-friendly, egalitarian country where the concept of sharing in every moment of pregnancy may be more strongly desired. (Unlike the U.S. which has no paid leave policy, Swedish parents are entitled to a whopping 480 days of paid leave, three months of which are reserved just for dads.) Still, with the rise of wearable tech and the boom of pregnancy and baby gadgets that no parent or child actually needs, it’s only a matter of time before BabyBuzz is available stateside.
At this very moment, women and their partners can purchase products that effectively turn babies into Tamagotchis, allowing them to track their new baby’s oxygen level, heart beat, sleep rhythms and feeding schedules. There are smart onesies, smart bottles, smart diapers, smart formula dispensers, smart pacifiers, smart cribs, and smart thermometers. As such, the BabyBuzz or something like it will surely reach our shores and the The Internet Of Things will fulfill its Manifest Destiny by finally reaching into the uncharted territory of our uteri.
Of course not everyone is so cynical. My husband and a few dad friends I spoke to agreed there was something sweet, if gimmicky and unrealistic, about the idea. And one expert told me the only downside he could see was driving partners being distracted by the buzzing.
“Fathers are more engaged and involved in their children and family’s lives than ever before,” said Dr. Craig Garfield, an Associate Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Director of Research at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “Research shows that children with involved fathers have cognitive, psychological, and social benefits and fathers enjoy the involvement. It is a win-win. And fathers are often the number one source of support for mothers during the pregnancy and beyond.”
Asked about the BabyBuzz, Dr. Garfield, a dad and expert in the benefit to families of involved fathers, told me, “It is important to remember that from the moment a woman knows she is pregnant she and her partner are dreaming of that baby. They talk about it, they think about it, they try and anticipate that baby coming. So a device like this can help fathers get on board earlier. Woman have an obvious outward change in their bodies; men not so much. So a buzz like this can literally create buzz about their expected baby.”
“The more moms and dads can be on the same page, the better their adjustment to having the child will likely be,” Garfield said.
Indeed, as one of the Swedish fathers in the documentary puts it, “[BabyBuzz makes] you feel that you’re more a part of it. When it vibrates—like it does—then it makes you, like, think about the baby.”
Americans might take more convincing.
“Somehow running down a windswept Nordic streetscape and pausing mid-jog because my watch started buzzing isn’t going to do that much to ‘connect me to pregnancy,’” my friend David, a Queens, NY, father of two responded after I asked him to watch the BabyBuzz video.
“Also, going out at 11:30 p.m. because my wife had a craving for ‘crappy pizza’ made me feel like I was already pretty connected.”