In Spring 2016, Briana Levin, Gina Drioane, and Mary Ellen King worked on a project to provide mothers-to-be with important information about maternal and child nutrition.
At the beginning of the semester, we found ourselves as a team of three tech novices trying to design a phone app. With strong backgrounds in public health and maternal and child nutrition, we jumped at the chance to center our app around the nutritional needs of pregnant mothers—thinking that while we might not know how to code or have knowledge of what a landing page was, we knew plenty about what mothers-to-be could eat. We were three public health students who had studied this stuff, and we happened to also be young women with many close friends who were already amazing moms. We figured we knew all about this topic. We were astronomically wrong.
Our design process was the stuff of dreams—sharing lunch or a glass of lemonade (or wine) with our close mommy friends and chatting with them about what they would have liked in a nutritional app while they were pregnant. (It didn’t hurt that we got to play with our best friends’ babies while we were at it.) We had expected our conversations to be pretty much limited to what kind of seafood a pregnant woman could eat, but our interviews took us down a completely different path.
The moms we spoke with told us stories that made us realize our educations had taught us little about the realities of being a pregnant woman in our society. We talked to them about stigma around weight gain or lack thereof. About financial worries that pop up as soon as you realize a baby is on the way. About feeling judged when you eat something “unhealthy”—about judging yourself. About doctors who don’t seem to care about what you eat as long as you aren’t having major problems. About what an immense struggle packing a lunch for your work day becomes once you’re packing that lunch not just for yourself, but also for the most precious person in the world. And this precious little being also happens to have some very unique dietary needs whose future health and mental abilities depend on your decisions and on your ability to avoid cold cuts but incorporate the correct seafood while balancing fat, proteins, and carbohydrates and…..
You get the idea. And suddenly we got it too. Or rather, we got that we couldn’t totally get it. Suddenly the lemonade (or wine) we were sharing with friends as we talked took on a whole new weight and meaning—what must it be like to think so carefully about every food and beverage choice you make?
We realized that even though these young women were some of our closest friends, we had never thought to ask these important questions. Every pregnant woman’s needs and questions around food are unique and deeply personal. There was no one-size-fits-all approach for what they wanted from an informational source, but support, understanding, and the ability to find answers to questions as they popped up over nine months seemed universally appealing.
In the end, we designed a website that lets women choose which features to use based on what matters to them and what questions they have, and then lets women change their minds or look for different resources as their journey progresses. Most importantly, we hope we envisioned a website that validates women’s nutritional concerns, while also assuring them that their lunch decision isn’t going to doom their baby’s life and that a sip or two of wine is very far from the end of the world. Ultimately, we designed a website to be the kind of friend we wished we could have been for the amazing moms in our lives—a friend with a warm heart, open ears, and preposterously encyclopedic nutritional knowledge.