Knowing Pregnancy
: A qualitative study of the (non-)use of fertility and pregnancy smartphone applications by women in the UK

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In this thesis I investigate the use of smartphone applications (apps) related to fertility and pregnancy, and consider how the dynamics of women’s use, partial use, and non-use of such apps relate to how they experience and make sense of their bodies before and during pregnancy. Drawing upon data from 24 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with 13 women and an analysis of smartphone apps, I contribute to the existing literature on fertility and pregnancy apps by adding empirical data on the experiences of women based in the UK, and extend discussions on practices of self-monitoring specific to the case study of fertility and pregnancy. I explore the use of fertility and pregnancy apps across four key categories of functionality: tracking fertility; monitoring the maternal body; understanding fetal development; and monitoring fetal movement. I analyse women’s motivations for and patterns of use of fertility and pregnancy apps, and consider how practical considerations of user availability, app design, and user self-awareness can limit the utility of such technologies. Monitoring fetal movement is a particularly rich example of app functionality to explore, as current clinical practice guidelines and National Health Service advice for women in the UK advise against formal fetal movement counting, yet many apps encourage and facilitate this practice. I unpack the interplay between what has been termed subjective maternal perception of fetal movement, and quantifiable measures based on specific alarm limits that serve as a measure of fetal wellbeing. Through my analysis, I uncover themes related to bodily awareness and ways of knowing, risk and reassurance, and further examine the role of external tools and sources of data in the embodied experience of pregnancy.
Date of Award1 Oct 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorBarbara Phil Prainsack (Supervisor) & Nicholas Manning (Supervisor)

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