Count the Kicks: An app that’s been tracking baby movements for a decade

Grief turned to advocacy, which became a nonprofit organization and developed into a mobile app.

That’s the story of Healthy Birth Day—a Des Moines-based nonprofit—that first formed in 2003 after five Des Moines mothers lost a baby late in their pregnancies to stillbirth.

“Those conversations led to why is this still occurring?” co-founder and current Senate Majority Leader Janet Peterson explains. “Women who make it through pregnancy should have a healthy baby, so we kind of channeled our grief into advocacy.”

After five years, the organization launched the “Count the Kicks” public health campaign along with the “Count the Kicks”free mobile app in 2008; QCI in West Des Moines developed the app.

The campaign educated health providers and moms on the importance of tracking baby movements in the third trimester. Because if a baby changes its movement pattern, it could be an indication there’s a problem with the baby.

“Originally we had some kick trackers for people to write in by pencil,” Peterson says. “Then once apps started being developed we thought it would be perfect for moms everywhere to have the ability at their fingertips to count the kicks and track movements.”

Count the Kicks recommends expecting mothers in the third trimester of their pregnancy schedule time each day to, “Count the Kicks.” The app tracks and records each session and moms are supposed to count how long it takes to reach ten kicks/movements.

Since launching in 2008, the app—which is available in Spanish—has been downloaded in all 50 states and 34 total countries. It can count for one baby or twins.

“To see how you can use technology to bring people together, we can make the world a healthier place,” Peterson says. “I think of the babies that we’ve saved and how that will forever change a family and the people that surround them. It’s a really good feeling.”

Count the Kicks
The user interface of the Count the Kicks app. Moms are asked to press the foot each time they feel their baby kick. The app records how long it takes to get to ten kicks.

Why we should ‘count the kicks’

Before she was named the first Executive Director of “Count the Kicks,” Emily Price worked as a reporter for KCCI, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines. She remembers working on a story about Peterson when she lost her daughter Grace in 2009 and a visit to her obstetrician office a year later when she was pregnant.

“I was in my doctor’s office telling my doctor my son’s movement had changed,” Price said. “My son was trying to be born at 30 weeks…”

Price wonders what would have happened if she hadn’t known about “Counting the kicks” or hadn’t spoken up.

“I know they (Count the Kicks/Healthy Birth Day) had a hand in bringing him here healthy,” Price says.

Price says the Count the Kicks app saves between 50-60 babies a year and has reduced stillbirth rates in Iowa by 26 percent since launching in 2008.

Goals for 2018

Count the Kicks
A mom using the mobile app, “Count the Kicks.” Photo courtesy of Emily Price/Count the Kicks

Price said six counties in Iowa with stillbirth rates higher than the state and national averages:

Those counties are:

  • Polk
  • Story
  • Blackhawk
  • Scott
  • Linn
  • Woodbury

“We don’t know why these six counties are higher but we do know they have more diverse populations and there are some real racial disparities when it comes to stillbirth,” Price says. “So 2018 we will hyper-focus on underserved and at-risk populations, targeting them where they are, holding focus groups to determine how they get their health information, where do they get it and what is being said that will influence them to know it’s important.”

Price said African American women are twice as likely to lose a baby to stillbirth and Hispanic women are one and a half times as likely because of various factors like stress, a history of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and toxic racism.

“These are things researchers tell us,” Price says. “There are lots of maternal health providers who believe in us, but there is still a fraction of doctors or nurses who don’t take women seriously when they come in complaining of reduced fetal movement.

“That just shows we have more work to do.”