New breeds of baby monitors promise peace of mind. But do they deliver?
We had just returned home from the hospital after our eight-week old had a scary bout with the cold virus RSV when I first noticed the Owlet ads popping up in my Facebook feed.
“Sleep better. Worry less,” they promised.
The Owlet baby monitor – which just launched an updated “Smart Sock 2” retailing at a pricey $299 – is one of the hottest new baby products in the $16 billion wearable industry; more than 100,000 parents own one. They are little mint green socks that track a baby’s heart rate and blood oxygen level, send the info to a parents’ phone, and will sound an alarm if the levels drop below normal.
This is similar to the oxygen monitoring our daughter had during her three days at the hospital. And we slept better in the hospital, even on the room’s plastic pullout couch, knowing her breathing was being tracked.
So I was tempted by the Owlet, even after she made a complete recovery. At the same time, the ad made me feel frazzled and a bit upset. It felt like it was feeding my anxiety and making me feel that peace of mind as a parent (so impossible to attain) was something I could purchase. The nurses at the hospital had told me to trust myself and just pay attention to how my daughter looked and acted now that she was better.
Many pediatricians advise parents of healthy infants against buying these kinds of high-tech monitors – which besides Owlet, include the Snuza diaper clip ($109.99), the MonBaby smart button ($99.99), which snaps onto a onesie, and the Mimo sensor ($199.99 for a starter kit), which is built into a washable kimono.
“I don’t recommend them to anyone,” said Dr. Minu George, chief of general pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY. The monitors’ potential to ramp up parents’ anxiety is greater than their usefulness, she believes.
A Journal of the American Medical Association editorial said in January that there is “no evidence that consumer infant physiologic monitors are life-saving, and there is potential for harm if parents choose to use them.”
Dr. Christopher Bonafide, the JAMA article’s lead author and a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said a false alarm on the device can lead to unnecessary hospital visits and tests, radiation exposure from x-rays, missed work and added anxiety for parents. He said he also worries a parent could delay getting help for a baby who appears sick but whose numbers look ok on the monitor. Plus, he said, the monitors’ appeal to parents taps into their fears about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), though they don’t prevent it.
Babies can set off false alarms by kicking or rolling – and healthy infants’ oxygen saturation levels occasionally dip below 80% without it being a problem, according to Dr. Bonafide. But there’s often no way of knowing whether it was a false alarm or not unless parents rush their infants to the emergency room for tests, explains Elizabeth Murray, a pediatrician and emergency medicine doctor with the University of Rochester Medical Center and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Owlet says these devices are helpful to parents: “We believe that parents have a right to know their baby’s heart rate, if they choose. By giving parents the right information at the right time, we empower them to make informed choices,” said Owlet Baby Care spokesperson Jane Putnam. And the newest Owlet monitor, called Smart Sock 2, aims to reduce false notifications, with a different fabric sock design, more secure fit and updated hardware and firmware.
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