As you know, I am a mother of four, so I am fully aware that there are a few mandatory accessories when you’re planning for a baby. A crib, a stroller, and a high chair are pretty much guaranteed to find their way into your home.
And, of course, there’s the state-of-the-art baby monitor. I honestly don’t think I’ve worked with a family who hasn’t had one. These days, they fall right alongside those other items as “essential” baby equipment.
And hey, not for no good reason, right? Baby monitors, even the most basic ones, provide some much-needed peace of mind for parents when they’re not in the room with their little ones.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned in my almost five years as a sleep consultant that they’re a bit of a double-edged sword. For all the peace of mind they provide, they can also have the exact opposite effect. Quite often, I see parents running into their baby’s room the moment they hear the slightest peep out of the monitor.
They check to make sure baby’s in a comfortable position, they check their temperature to make sure they’re not too hot or too cold, or it prompts them to check their diaper to see if they might need a change. Then, after they’ve confirmed that everything’s as it should be, they head back out of the room, sit down for a few minutes until they hear another rustle come through the speaker, and then they’re back in action, repeating the whole process.
Seriously. I’ve seen it happen with more than a few families. And I assure you, I’m not exaggerating even a little bit!
Now, if you’re reading this and thinking, “What’s so strange about that?” then it’s possible that you are, in fact, addicted to your baby monitor.
Interesting little side note here, did you know that the first baby monitor was invented back in 1937 as a result of the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping? It’s true! Eugene MacDonald, then president of Zenith (a familiar name in electronics for all of us old-timers out there) heard about the incident and commissioned designer Isamu Noguchi to create a radio device that would transmit sound from baby’s room to a receiver elsewhere in the house. Good luck snatching a baby out of their crib now, you stupid kidnappers.
Over the years, monitors became increasingly sophisticated. They switched from radio to digital signals, did away with the wires, added two way communication so parents could speak to their babies as well as hear them, then came the video monitors, wi-fi capability for better picture and sound, and now… now they can monitor a baby’s heart rate, oxygen levels, movements, breathing, sleeping position, even whether or not baby’s got a wet diaper.
And therein lies the problem.
On one hand, I think it’s great that we have the technology to monitor our babies vital signs and make sure they’re not in a dangerous sleeping position.
On the other, it’s not exactly good for your mental wellness, or your baby’s sleep, if you’re in a state of hyper-vigilance throughout the night. I never recommend rushing in to “fix” things every time baby fusses a little, or the temperature in the nursery rises by a half a degree.
Now, I know the absolutely gut- wrenching anxiety that parents have about keeping their little ones safe. There’s absolutely no instinct in the world more powerful than the desire to protect your kids. With that being said, there is a big difference between exercising due care and obsessing over unnecessary details. Bear in mind that baby monitors have not proven to be effective in reducing the incidence of SIDS. So, even with the millions, probably billions of these machines in nurseries around the world, they haven’t really done anything in preventing the one major catastrophe that parents are desperately trying to avoid.
Again, I don’t want to discourage the use of a monitor. But if you’re going to use one, remember why they were designed. They’re for peace of mind and to inform you of a potential emergency, not to act as a call button that demands your immediate attention every time you hear your baby stirring in the night. Giving your child the opportunity to fall back to sleep independently when they wake up in the night is important; actually its essential if you want them to learn the skills they need to regularly enjoy nights of restful, rejuvenative sleep.
If you want to minimize the potential for SIDS, injuries, or other nighttime mishaps, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guide to safe sleep. You’ll find some incredibly valuable information there. Most notably, put your baby on their back to sleep, keep the crib clear of any possible airway obstructions, don’t smoke, breastfeed if possible, and use a firm mattress and a tightly secured fitted sheet. That will go a lot further towards keeping your baby safe than even the most technologically advanced baby monitor ever could.
In short, if your baby monitor gives you peace of mind, keep using it. If it’s stressing you out, it’s time to make a change.