Technology is everywhere.
Phones are getting smarter. Computers are getting smarter. Even eye glasses are getting smarter.
But in the space of caring for growing babies, technology is not always a parent’s friend. Human nature says get the highest tech device that will keep my growing or newborn baby as safe as I can. This logic is flawed though and can actually lead to more harm. I’ll tell you why.
First, what kind of high tech monitors am I talking about?
This cease and desist on baby tech goes out to the following.
- Fetal heart dopplers for listening to the baby’s (fetus’s) heart rate while in the uterus.
- Infant heart rate and vitals monitors worn in cribs while the baby is sleeping.
- Pressure monitors that assess the breathing and movement of a baby.
Regarding the external monitors for newborns, I am ONLY speaking about term babies who have cooked in the uterus long enough and are NOT sent home with MEDICALLY ISSUED monitors. The babies who have physician recommended monitors are not the ones who I worry about overuse of baby-tech.
Technology is not always a parent’s friend.
Back in MY day (10 years ago), my husband and I had an audio-only monitor with one end in the baby’s room and 2 handheld monitors which we would leave in common areas of the house. When I would move from one area to another, I’d bring the audio monitor with me. I’m sure that when I was a baby, my parents just listened out for my cries. Or maybe they tied a tin can to a string in my room and held the other tin can in whatever adjacent room they were in, playing a version of infant telephone. I wouldn’t be surprised.
The American Association of Pediatrics and the CDC provide the following recommendations to prevent SIDS and other scary and dangerous events in the early infant months:
- Place your baby on his or her back for all sleep times—naps and at night.
- Use a firm, flat sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet.
- Keep your baby’s sleep area (for example, a crib or bassinet) in the same room where you sleep until your baby is at least 6 months old, or ideally, until your baby is one year old.
- Keep soft bedding such as blankets, pillows, bumper pads, and soft toys out of your baby’s sleep area.
- Do not cover your baby’s head or allow your baby to get too hot. Signs your baby may be getting too hot include sweating or his or her chest feels hot.
- Do not smoke during pregnancy, and do not smoke or allow smoking around your baby. For help quitting, see How to Quit Smoking.
- Do not drink alcohol or use illegal drugs during pregnancy.
- Breastfeed your baby.
- Visit your baby’s health care provider for regular checkups. Your baby will receive important shots to prevent disease. Remember, vaccines do not increase risk. Evidence supports that infant scheduled vaccines DECREASE SIDS risk.
- Offer your baby a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. If you are breastfeeding your baby, you may want to wait to use a pacifier until breastfeeding is well-established.
So what is the problem with having a high tech baby monitor?
It can only help keep baby safer, right? Wrong. From the Washington Post:
Parents might assume that a monitor that measures vital signs could prevent their baby from dying of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, but there’s no hard evidence for this. And studies from the 1980s and 1990s of hospital-grade heart-rate and breathing monitors prescribed for home use for babies thought to be at high risk for SIDS found that the monitors didn’t reduce babies’ risk of dying of SIDS. These older monitors were more cumbersome — not wireless like the commercial monitors available today — but they collected similar data, and some studies reported that their use increased parental stress and fatigue.
Pediatrician, Dr. Victoria Rodriquez, recommends:
“… not to bother with vital-signs monitors because they ‘don’t seem to prevent bad things from happening and can cause emotional distress for families.’”
Baby tech monitors may actually make infants LESS SAFE by offering false reassurance.
Also from the Washington Post:
Some pediatricians worry that home use of vital sign monitors might falsely reassure parents about SIDS, defined as a sudden death with unexplained cause during the first year of life, and other sleep-related deaths such as those caused by suffocation. “Parents may become complacent if they are using a monitor and figure that, since the monitor is on the baby, it’s okay to place the baby on her stomach to sleep or to otherwise not follow the safe sleep recommendations,” Rachel Moon, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, wrote in an email. She was the lead author of the AAP’s policy statement on safe sleep.
As an Obstetrician, the question I hear often is:
“Doc, should I buy a doppler to listen to the heart rate on my own?”
The answer is always the same. No. But why? For the same reason that newborn monitors are ill advised. If a woman can’t hear the heartbeat, which is not always easy to find, more stress and evaluation can ensue.
Conversely, when the time comes in the pregnancy where kick counts are important, if a woman doesn’t get her kick counts, more evaluation may be necessary. More than just a few seconds of doppler monitoring, that is. A baby with a heartbeat can still be in distress.
More baby tech is not necessarily better, and in fact, it is likely worse. The irony is that many people buy these monitors to be more safe, when in fact they can absolutely cause more harm than good, both physically and emotionally for parents and baby.
Enjoy your pregnancy and baby. Leave the non-medically-issued lack-of-supporting-evidence tech out of it. If you are worried, own your concern, ask questions, and find ways to manage anxiety. It’s okay to feel some level of worry about your baby. Welcome to parenthood.
Dr. Wendy Goodall McDonald is a board certified OBGYN. She began practicing medicine in 2007 and now uses her extensive knowledge and growing following to increase health awareness in a fun and viral way. She is the founder of The Gyneco-blogic and an author of numerous books for adult and childhood health education and social growth. For more, check me, I mean her out at dreverywoman.com