When Mary O’Connell Ripley and her husband, John, brought home their newborn daughter slightly more than a year ago, the couple was undoubtedly nervous.
Like many first-time parents, their anxieties were relieved a bit when they decided to invest in a baby video monitor so they could easily check on their infant while she slept.
“It definitely brought me piece of mind,” O’Connell Ripley told Healthline. “We could just look at the monitor and see how she was doing.”
Peace of mind isn’t an unreasonable aspiration for any parent with regard to their child’s safety. Baby monitors are often considered the first line of defense in that quest.
As O’Connell Ripley mentioned, they allow parents to easily keep tabs on their child — when they sleep, when they wake up, and when they cry.
Concerns over constant monitoring
These so-called smart devices, or wearable devices, are designed to monitor your baby’s movements at night, analyze your baby’s sleep, and keep you constantly updated on your baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels.
These devices are usually linked to apps on smart phones that send alarms to parents when a condition, such as the position, breathing, or temperature of the baby, changes.
The JAMA authors say many parents appear to be using these devices as a means to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But in the end they are only subjecting themselves and their babies to unwarranted health scares.
“Despite the lack of publicly available evidence, supporting the safety, accuracy, and effectiveness, or the role of the monitors in the care of well infants, sales of the products are brisk and the market is expanding,” JAMA stated.
Dr. Jesspreet Gowan of the Stanford Children’s Health Pediatric Associates, told Healthline that she agrees with the concerns of the JAMA review.
She said that wearable devices for infants may sound like a great idea, in theory. But unless your child has a serious medical condition that warrants constant monitoring, parents are only setting themselves up for more stress.
“You have alarms going off and parents rushing to the ER,” she said.
Any parent who enters an emergency room and reports that their baby isn’t breathing properly will have to watch their child undergo a number of tests that can range from chest X-rays to a hospital stay, Gowan added.
She said the fear of SIDS is real, so she understands why parents would turn to a wearable device to help alleviate that worry. But they need to understand that healthy babies, just like adults, don’t always sleep soundly.
“What these monitors are really looking at is sleep apnea,” she said.
But apnea is not correlated with an increased risk of SIDS, Gowan added.
“These monitors have not been shown to decrease risk of SIDS,” she said.
The evolution of baby monitors
First generation baby monitors took hold in the 1980s and looked like walkie-talkies.
They broadcasted through short wave radio.
By the early 2000s, video monitors came into favor, giving parents a bird’s-eye view of their child.
Today, parents and caregivers can choose from a veritable smorgasbord of baby monitoring devices. Amazon.com boasts dozens of devices. A quick search for “baby monitoring devices” on Google produces a seemingly endless list of page results.
There are only a handful of the more sophisticated smart devices on the market.
The Owlet gives parents real-time feedback on heart rates and oxygen levels. It looks like a little sock that parents slip on their baby’s foot.
The website promotes the idea of “peace of mind” for parents, but it also lists a disclaimer that “this device is not intended to cure, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition, including, but not limited to, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).”
The Mimo Smart Baby Breathing and Activity Monitor is best described as onesies with the device attached near the belly.
It monitors “real-time breathing” and alerts parent of any changes in breathing and activity, such as body position and temperature through a connected app.
MonBaby calls itself a breathing and rollover monitor.
It snaps onto your baby’s clothes, similar to antitheft devices used on clothes in department stories. Parents can set up their desired alerts on the accompanying app.
It’s important to note the American Academy of Pediatrics is not in favor of parents using smart monitoring devices. These products are also not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Gowan said infants with chronic lung disease or bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or infants who require ventilation at night, would likely benefit from a smart monitoring device.
“But then the pulmonologist is prescribing it and parents are instructed on what to do,” she said. “In this case it’s very controlled.”
Parents who have healthy babies and are using a smart device are essentially on their own, she added, with no one to help them interpret the alarms.
“This leads to the anxiety,” Gowan said.
O’Connell Ripley said that was the reason she and her husband made the conscious choice to not purchase a smart monitoring device.
“Unless there was a known medical issue,” she said, “I think it would increase your anxiety.”
Gowan said she has no issue with parents employing a video monitor. She also hasn’t had any parents ask her about wearable devices for their child.
But she expects that to change.
When that happens Gowan said she plans to educate parents on the JAMA findings and strongly encourage parents to employ the tactics that are known to prevent SIDS.
“Safe sleep, that has been known to reduce SIDS. Back sleep, no blankets, no toys in the crib, all of those things,” she said. “It’s important for us to emphasize those are the things to do to protect your baby.”