Monday, January 6, 2014

Baby Monitors… Are they safe or effective?

The uses and applications of baby monitors have grown over the years. There are audio-only versions, video monitors, and now motion sensors. Soon they will be able to tell you baby's oxygen level and temperature or predict how long your baby will sleep. How did parents ever have kids before these? (Big sarcasm here!)

photo source: Shutterstock. Baby on a hospital monitor
Some of the newer baby monitors claim to be able to help a parent learn a baby's sleep patterns to help with sleep training. I think it is wonderful to have all the research that is being done on sleep and I know that it is hugely important for babies and their tired parents to sleep, but I wonder how we did it for so many centuries by just paying attention to our babies and learning their cues? I don't think it is a good thing that parents rely on gizmos to "learn" about their babies.

Unfortunately monitors are sold with the hint of prevention of SIDS. Parents often feel a sense of comfort when they sleep with a monitor to alert them when baby cries. When I was a new mother the monitor was rarely used. I had more anxiety when it was on and I couldn't sleep as well. I could hear the cry just as well without the monitor, but the monitor allowed me to hear every deep breath, grunt or sighing noise common to a sleeping baby. The monitor highlighted every sound, keeping me awake. I know our neighbors used a monitor when we would gather outside on their driveway or deck and their baby was asleep or if they were in the basement and baby was upstairs on the 2nd floor. I can actually see a benefit to that, but I hope parents would never use the smartphone app to use it when they stray far from home.

Parents are starting to ask about the newer generation monitors that sense baby's movement and alarm if no movement is felt. Some will even vibrate the baby if no movement is sensed after 15-20 seconds. Before you think these are the answer: the FDA has NEVER approved a baby product to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS. I know of one product that is working with the FDA and projects that by 2015 they will get FDA clearance. At this point, their sock only tells parents the vital signs and oxygen. It doesn't even look like it alarms when the level gets low. Until it has been shown to work and be safe for general use, I would not waste money on any device. And yes, some of these devices have actually strangled babies to death, so they are not without risk!


If you really want to help prevent SIDS, use the precautions recommended by experts. (For more, see my previous blog on SIDS Prevention Guidelines.)

  • Before baby's born: get regular prenatal care and do not smoke, drink alcohol, or use illicit drugs during pregnancy. 
  • Put baby on his back to sleep. Every time. Even if you're in the room. When baby can roll on his own, he can sleep in the position of comfort he finds. 
  • Use only a firm sleeping surface made for infant sleep. Never leave baby on the couch, in an adult's bed, in a car seat, in a sleep positioner, or in a swing.
  • Check your crib and bassinet for recalls
  • Pacifiers have been shown to help prevent SIDS, so it is okay to use one for baby's sleep times. If your baby won't take one, that is okay. You cannot force it. Some breastfeeding experts say to wait until 3 weeks to allow breastfeeding to be established, but I do not find that it interferes with breastfeeding if you use a pacifier earlier.
  • Keep all soft objects (pillows, loose blankets, bumper pads, stuffed animals) out of the bed until your baby is over 1 year of age.
  • Keep baby out of your bed, but in your room.
  • Breastfeed as long as possible. Yes, it has been shown to help prevent SIDS!
  • Vaccinate your baby. Research shows immunizations may protect against SIDS and we know they prevent illnesses that cause death.
  • Get baby regular health checkups to insure proper growth and development.
  • Keep baby away from smokers and places where people smoke. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit. If you cannot quit, never smoke in your home or car. Always go outside where the smoke is less likely to settle on your hair, clothes and furniture.
  • Keep the room at a comfortable temperature and avoid over wrapping your baby. When babies get too hot, they are more likely to suffer from SIDS.
  • Do not use home cardiorespiratory monitors to prevent SIDS. Some babies leave the hospital with these due to heart or lung problems, but they have never been shown to decrease SIDS.
  • Do not use other products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. As stated above, none have been shown to prevent SIDS. 
  • Give baby tummy time when you can watch and play with him. This strengthens baby's muscles to allow him to learn to roll over safely by 4-6 months.
  • If you are overly tired or are under the influence of certain drugs or alcohol: you may not be alert enough to care for your baby. Ask for someone else to help until you are more alert and able to wake to baby's cues.


Baby Safe Sleep Resources