Baby monitors: peace of mind or unnecessary alarms?

Gone are the days when parents relied on their ability to hear their baby cry in their sleep and get out of bed immediately at 3am to calm the cry. Today, a variety of smart devices, monitors and trackers can warn not only that an indignant cry will be heard now, but also monitor the heart rate, oxygen level, and sleep patterns. There are gadgets that measure the moisture level in the nursery and even send messages when it gets damp in the diaper. It looks incredibly comfortable: surrounded by monitors, the baby seems to be completely safe. But the experts are for some reason unhappy: as it turns out, such a technological nursery is not good for parents. Especially mothers. And it’s not about the accusations of “laziness and inattention”, but quite the opposite.

Peace of Mind or False Security?

Respiration monitors and trackers that monitor heart rate, brings a lot of disturbing the mothers a sense of calm: Even if the mother is asleep, its time to wake up the device and warn about problems. Such peace of mind is worth a lot, and it is precisely this that is the reason for buying various devices (which marketers of manufacturing companies play well on). However, some experts warn that monitors and trackers can lead to a false sense of security in addition to heightened parental anxiety, and sometimes just don’t fire. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents not to rely on monitors to prevent the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. 

However, the market for smart baby monitors is booming. In total, over a billion dollars of such devices were sold in 2018! And so every year.

The market has changed a lot over the past decade. If ten years ago, baby monitors were really “radio”, transmitting only sound, then then they began to broadcast images, connect to smartphones. And now various smart sock devices send graphs of heart rate, oxygen levels, REM and deep sleep periods. And the mini-sensor in the diaper sends SMS.  

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is indeed a problem that kills thousands of babies around the world every year. And its prevention is the concern of doctors and parents. However, will “smart” gadgets help with this?  

Too many options

There are still audio monitors , however, they are no longer just audio: they are two-sided, cover considerable distances and can serve as a night light at the same time. The improved baby monitors also incorporate video cameras, players with lullaby songs, humidity, temperature, motion, and sound sensors. With such a “nanny” you can communicate via a smartphone and talk to a child.

Personal experience

Evgeny, young father, Novosibirsk

We have two such monitors that track everything around our daughter. Sophia is 6 months old, and there are two devices in the nursery: one only audio, and the second transmits sound and video, warns of movements, noise, monitors temperature, humidity and air composition in the nursery. 

We chose two at once, because the more complex one works only if there is Internet. If the connection is lost, it is disconnected. So we have the audio version as a spare device. For the most part, they’re both just for comfort. Basically, the wife looks to see if Sophia has woken up, where she is going to climb, or watches her daughter chatting and playing with herself when no one is around. 

“Caring Angel”, “Clever Owlet”, from the names just breathes calmness. For “advanced” parents, there are brand options with tech words (” Nanite Plus”) … There are clothes that track the respiratory rate. There is almost everything to keep track of how the baby is feeling in a dream or at a distance. How can I resist? And how to choose?

In the past, monitors that warn of pauses in the baby’s breathing were used for medical purposes for babies at increased risk of SIDS. Today, such devices are widespread, relatively inexpensive and very tiny: the mini-sensor under the mattress does not touch the baby, but monitors the vibrations. An alarm is broadcast to parents after 20 seconds of no chest movement, and some devices immediately begin to vibrate to trigger a response from the baby’s central nervous system and return everything to normal.

Such devices are considered consumer products, not medical gadgets and are not approved by doctors. And the manufacturers also claim that any data collected is protected and their transmission is strictly confidential. And although we have not yet heard about cases of “hacking” of children’s monitors, but we know that hackers have already got to automatic insulin pumps, pacemakers and monitors. So such confidentiality is still in question: very few people want to receive false information that the child has stopped breathing, or vice versa, that everything is in order, although in fact something is going wrong.

Childhood problems with children’s devices

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the fear of every parent. But monitors are not the best way to deal with that fear, say experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics. In the recommendations for the safety of children’s sleep, they say: “The use of cardiorespiratory monitors has not been approved for reducing SIDS. Don’t use such home devices as a risk reduction strategy. ”

In a report published last year, researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia tested two of the most popular home monitors for children. They found that one of the “smart socks” was generally good at detecting low oxygen levels in a child’s blood, but was inconsistent — for example, sometimes missing a critical drop in oxygen. The second monitor was generally unable to detect low oxygen levels during testing, and also showed false data on the heart rate in the background.

Both devices use a non-invasive pulse oximetry method to measure blood oxygen using a beam of light. When tested, they were compared with a clinical reference medical device. And although the manufacturers of the smart sock disputed the test results, and the researchers agreed, the second monitor had to be removed from sales. And these are the results for only two children’s gadgets with well-known and proven brands! It is impossible to predict what parents can be told and what Chinese nameless devices will miss.

Lawsuits and advice from pediatricians

Questions about baby monitors arise all the time. Are they necessary, useful, and how to choose the best option?

Expert commentary

Elizabeth Murray, pediatrician, American Academy of Pediatrics

We know that parents want the best. The trick with these advanced monitors is that they can often give false alarms. You wake up and think that something is wrong, but this is false data.

Hospital monitors are checked on a regular basis to make sure they are properly calibrated. Home monitors cannot be as accurate as hospital devices.

Some of the monitoring gadgets play on fear, and in some cases, monitors can cause more anxiety and uncertainty. Research has not shown any benefit, and as clinicians, we have a responsibility not to recommend useless monitors. Moreover, these devices are far from harmless. Parents are at risk of losing sleep due to inevitable false alarms. And this is not bad for both parents and children.

In the meantime, there have already been lawsuits in the US from parents over false alarms from devices, as well as incorrect heart rate and oxygen readings. Manufacturers are rejecting the claims, as all baby monitors in the consumer market are not medical products. And those who are dissatisfied should immediately return them and get the money back, and not go to court.

Billy Slootnick , 38, was one of those who were about to participate in a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of children’s products. She has two children: five and two years old, and both have been monitored since birth. But in the three-year hiatus between childbirth, Billy says, “the market exploded.” The second son got not just a baby monitor, but a special device that monitors respiration, heart rate and oxygen levels in the blood.  

As a result, my mother realized that she had completely stopped sleeping: she woke up not only to every sound, but for no reason, waiting in fear for an alarm. She had to go to several doctors to examine the child. The pediatrician helped the best. “Listen, Billy, – he said, – Do not focus on the monitors. The child is all right, this is a problem of the device, not health. Remove the sound, otherwise you will soon have to heal. ”    

Mrs. Slootnik didn’t sue the manufacturer. But she told other parents about her story. “I know monitors can help keep you calm. But if they don’t work properly, it can drive you crazy. “

There is another pitfall: a potential problem detected by the monitor will lead to unnecessary medical examination. So what to do for safe sleep for both children and adults? Pediatricians assure that the simplest and most reliable methods of prevention have not changed. And they definitely work.

  • Use thick mattresses for children, give up feather beds, pillows, large blankets.
  • Do not overheat the baby and provide fresh air.
  • Keep soft items and extra bedding away from babies.
  • Sleep with your child in the same room, but provide him with a separate place to sleep (side cot, bassinet, special “nest”, which will not get an adult hand or blanket edge at night) for at least 6 months, and preferably up to a year.
  • Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke on the mother before the baby is born, and on both the breastfeeding mother and the baby after birth. Secondhand smoke is also extremely dangerous and increases the risk of SIDS! 

Should you give up devices altogether?

If things are not so rosy with false signals and inaccurate data, do we need such devices? Of course we do. Many devices have very useful abilities: from signaling a child’s restless sleep to audio and video monitoring when the baby is sleeping, for example, not in the room, but on the balcony. Anything that makes life easier for parents helps the whole family: children also need calm and sleepy adults. 

And the only thing that pediatricians consider harmful is to rely too much on the ability to detect breathing and other unnecessary “bells and whistles” of modern devices. The more complex the device, the higher the chance that it will not work correctly. Conventional thermometers and hygrometers can be used to determine humidity and temperature. And if a child has a risk of SIDS, then you should not rely on socks and other sensors: medical devices and compliance with the rules of safe sleep will help. 

Manufacturers of “smart socks” and similar devices, for their part, promise to modify the gadgets to the required level so that everyone can sleep peacefully. As soon as such doctor-approved special monitors appear, we will definitely tell you about it!

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