Wearable baby monitors seem like a great concept in theory — they attach in some way to your sleeping baby and promise to alert you to any biomedical changes that occur and alert you to potential danger. Unfortunately, experts believe that they may be causing more problems than they alleviate.
What They Promise
Wearable monitors make a variety of claims depending on which model you’re using. Most of them promise to alert you if your baby stops breathing, or if your baby’s heart rate or temperature declines significantly overnight.
Each device attaches to your baby in a different way. Owlet, for example, offers your baby a minimally invasive “smart sock,” which tracks heart rate, oxygen levels, and sleep patterns. Sense-U has a flat sensor that you put under your baby while he or she sleeps; it alerts your smartphone if your baby stops breathing, is sleeping on their stomach, or has a significant change in body temperature indicating that they’ve gotten too hot or too cold. Snuza Hero’s device clips to a baby’s diaper, and this device alerts the caregiver after 20 seconds of no abdominal movement.
Those all sound great, right? There are no real “dangers” to these wearable baby monitors.
What They Deliver
Unfortunately, records and reviews show that many commercial wearable devices not only raise a lot of false alarms, sometimes they miss worrisome indicators altogether. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association published in 2017 noted that during the study one of the monitors missed nine instances of low blood oxygen levels, and falsely alerted to concerning conditions that were not actually present 26 times.
While it may be tempting to purchase a wearable monitor as an added precaution, experts warn that they may give parents a dangerously false sense of security.
What One Pediatrician Says
Parents often rely on home monitoring products in an effort to protect babies from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), an unexplained death that can happen to seemingly healthy babies, often during sleep. Dr. Amna Husain, MD, FAAP, and the founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics explains to Parentology why respiratory monitors such as the wearable products on the market today can’t really offer that type of protection.
“Research has not shown a clear link between apnea and SIDS,” she says, adding that even full-term newborns in the first few weeks of life may have brief periods of apnea that isn’t linked to SIDS.
What to Do Instead
“These wearable monitors often provide a false sense of security to parents who use the products,” she explains. Often, concerned parents treat these products like they are medical devices that will deliver hospital-grade monitoring, which isn’t the case.
“In addition, these products do not require pre-market approval by the US Food and Drug Administration,” she adds, meaning there is little oversight and regulation. Instead of relying on these devices, which are known for false alarms that can heighten parental anxiety, Husain advises parents to focus on sleep methods we know to lessen the risk of SIDS:
- Laying your baby on his or her back
- Sleeping in a crib or bassinet with a firm mattress
- Removing pillows, stuffed animals, toys, or bumpers
- Reducing associated risk factors such as smoking