breastfeeding chatbot
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Britain’s Breastfeeding Chatbot is a Great Idea, Kinda Sucks

As any new mom who tries to breastfeed knows, that sh*t is hard. And nerve-racking. And rarely, if ever, goes off without a hiccup (both literally and figuratively). There’s a reason that more than half the new ‘mums’ in England stop breastfeeding after only two months. The rest, no doubt, have their lactation consultant on speed dial.

Well, now the British National Health Service wants every new breastfeeding mother to have a personal lactation expert. And one who’s on-call in the middle of the night, no less, when the most frantic Google breastfeeding searches are made. To do that, they’ve debuted a virtual Breastfeeding Friend (BFF) ChatBot on Facebook Messenger to field questions 24-7. The only problem is that Start4Life, as it’s known, isn’t very good at its job.

Okay, it doesn’t  totally suck — it just struggles with specifics. We jumped online and, after introducing ourselves, fired a few questions at it. We learned that while the criticism is well-founded, the bot’s not entirely unhelpful.

If you enter a keyword or phrase like “latching” or “mastitis,” the bot drops a well-versed reply and/or directs you to its library of extensive step-by-step photo guides. It also offers a list of common questions and breastfeeding topics — everything from “Expressing milk” and “Sore nipples” to “Crying and colic” and “Baby’s weight.” All of it is informative.

Try to have a conversation or ask a specific question, however, and this is not the case. In fact, the bot is quick to feign ignorance with a self-deprecating: “Sorry, I didn’t quite get that. I’m just a bot, after all…” or “I’m afraid I’m not the best with long phrases or single words, but I can understand short phrases like ‘Baby getting enough milk’ or ‘Enough milk'”.

Not the best with long phrases? Or single words? We got this reply a lot.

That said, follow the prompts and you’ll eventually arrive at some useful information. Whether it’ll actually answer your specific question isn’t clear. Still, one-handed at 4 am with a crying infant and frayed nerves, it’s not a bad place to start. And definitely easier than firing up Google or searching for your hospital-issued copy of The Good Housekeeping Book of Child Care. 

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