The ‘z generation’: digital mothers and their infants

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My granddaughter is 20 months old and I am amazed at herability to press the precise buttons on the iPhone to answerit. Of course, her language skills are crude, but the garbledwords are definitely aimed at the picture of her father ormother that appears with the ringtone. Why am I writingabout this in an editorial to my midwifery colleagues? Weneed to gear ourselves up and be ready to support the digitalnatives coming into our maternity services today and, moreimportantly, tomorrow. The new mothers preparing forbirth are from a unique generation of technologically savvycitizens – ‘generation z’, born after 1995 and referred to as‘digital natives’ (Howe and Strauss, 2000).Technology permeates every aspect of modern life for thez generation and as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed,tweets herald the announcement to the global e-community.Pictures of the 3D scan posted on Facebook follow.During pregnancy, mothers-to-be download apps forexercise monitoring and preparation for labour and birth.When labour begins, or if a caesarean birth is planned, thedate and time are posted on the network(s) and, duringlabour, tweets, emails and texts keep everyone informed.When the midwife or doctor pronounces a statementof progress on the labour, this becomes a social mediacommunication for global access.Midwives and doctors need to be conscious of this asnot only is there an opportunity for these conversations tobe recorded on smartphones, they can be tweeted, textedor emailed immediately to the eagerly-awaiting family andfollowers. As midwives, it is vital for us to be conscious ofthe layers of technology now surrounding every aspect ofour work and the social media technology that is there, butalmost invisible. I would predict it is only a matter of timebefore the legal eagles call for the data generated throughthe social media communication network to be availablefor medico-legal cases.Almost 30 years ago, I can remember the very firstbirthing video request by a doctor when I was assisting hiswife, who was in labour with their first child. This eventwas indeed novel and it was the talk of the tea room formany days. Professional opinion was polarised into twocamps: those who felt it was perfectly acceptable, and thosewho thought it was totally unacceptable; an intrusion intothe private world of the birthing space. I was not asked toconsent to being part of their everlasting memory of theevent and was never privy to viewing the footage.Today, I have the rights, and we have ethical andgovernance procedures, to ensure that consent is takenfor every person caught on camera. However, less obvioustechnologies are a natural part of everyday life and we seehow much mobile phone footage is used when disasters occurand people instantly switch on the camera that now comesas standard on nearly all mobile phones. Speed cameras,surveillance cameras and now birthing room cameras.Mobile phones are being increasingly used to access theinternet, and recent data from Fox and Duggan (2012)reports 85% of adults in the US own a mobile phone, morethan half of which are smartphones. Furthermore, 52% havesearched for health-related information online and one infive smartphone owners have downloaded health apps. Ourprevious research (Lagan et al, 2011) provided importantevidence to support perceptions of increased use of theinternet for seeking health information by pregnant women.Data from the UK Office for National Statistics (2011) showthat 46% of female internet users and 38% of males had usedthe internet in the three months prior to the survey in searchof online health information. While global data indicate thatalmost a quarter of all females who have been online havesearched for health information (Fox, 2011).The acceptability of social media has had an enormousimpact on our behaviour and you can switch on thetelevision to observe this in action as you watch mothersand midwives showcase birth to the global audience. Themodern woman does not seem to have any inhibitions aboutcameras recording her birth, as evidenced by the increasingnumber of programmes following birthing journeys.The mobile is switched on in our birthing worlds,regardless of whether the birth is taking place in the home,midwife-led unit, obstetric labour ward or theatre. Weneed to be ready for this becoming the ‘social norm andthe professional status quo’ and we need to train our newmidwives and doctors to expect ‘big brother to be watching’.I believe that there is mounting evidence to support theglobal acceptance of social media platforms and onlinesupport systems. As such, maybe we need to look intostrategic planning and the formation of guidelines to addressthe effective use of information communication technologiesin practice, so that we can be ready for generation z?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3
JournalEvidence Based Midiwfery
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

© 2013 The Royal College of Midwives. Evidence Based Midwifery 11(1): 3
Reference text: Fox S. (2011) Health topics. See:
aspx (accessed 19 January 2013).
Fox S, Duggan M. (2012) Mobile health 2012. See:
Files/Reports/2012/PIP_MobileHealth2012.pdf (accessed 19 January 2013).
Howe N, Strauss W. (2000) Millennials rising: the next great generation.
Vintage Books/Random House: New York.
Lagan B, Sinclair M, Kernohan WG. (2011) What is the impact of the internet
on decision-making in pregnancy? A global study. Birth 38(4): 336-45.
Office for National Statistics. (2011) Internet access – households and
individuals, 2011. See:
html?edition=tcm%3A77-226727 (accessed 19 January 2013).


  • Birth technology
  • social media
  • mobile technology
  • evidence-based midwifery


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