Each year, about 3,500 children under age 1 die suddenly and unexpectedly in the U.S. each year from unknown causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s the buzz from A Child Grows on wearable baby monitors:
For Stephanie Sjogren, a 32-year-old medical billing and coding specialist, those statistics recently hit close to home. When her son, Andrew, was just eight weeks old, he stopped breathing while he was sleeping. Sjogren found out because the baby monitor Andrew was wearing woke her up.
Waank. Waank. Waank. At first, Sjogren, who had been sleeping in bed next to her son’s bassinet, wondered what the strange sound was. Was the smart-sock monitor malfunctioning?
In the dark, she could make out that Andrew’s tiny arm was oddly bent. When Sjogren picked Andrew up, he arched and didn’t make any noise. “I turned on the light and noticed that he had formula all over him, including in his nose,” she says. Baby Andrew’s pediatrician had put him on a special, thick formula for preemies designed to promote weight gain. Andrew had had a feeding before bedtime.
In a second, Sjogren realized what was happening: Andrew was suffocating on regurgitated formula. “In what felt like hours but was probably only seconds, I ran for the nasal aspirator and sucked the formula out of his nose,” she says. Then, Andrew let out an eerie cry, “like he was terrified and relieved at the same time,” his mother says.
Later, when Sjogren recounted the incident, Andrew’s pediatrician explained that infants aren’t inherent mouth breathers. If their nose is clogged, they don’t know to breathe through their mouth.
The good news? Thanks to his wearable baby monitor, Andrew survived and he’s doing great. He’s now 10 months old and has outgrown his reflux issues. Whew!
The Next New (Little) Big Thing
Wearable baby monitors take infant and toddler surveillance to a new level. If you’re shopping for a baby monitor, you’re bound to come across more and more of these devices. Here’s a rundown of what’s available and how wearable baby monitors work.
The Owlet Smart Sock is a little foot sock babies can wear while sleeping. You slip it on your baby’s foot at nap and bedtime. The monitor will sound if your baby’s heart rate or oxygen level fall below a predetermined threshold.
How the Owlet Works
The Owlet Smart Sock uses pulse oximetry to check heart rate and oxygen saturation of the blood. It’s the wireless version of the same technology used in hospital NICUs. Pulse oximetry is used in hospitals to measure how well oxygen is being sent to parts of your body furthest from your heart, such as the arms and legs.
The gist: The Owlet monitor shines a light on your baby’s skin. It estimates the amount of blood flow and oxygen saturation based on how much light is transmitted to the sock’s sensor. It uses low-emission Bluetooth technology to communicate that information to a nearby base station.
The base station will sound an alarm if your baby’s heart rate or oxygen saturation level appear to be out of range for whatever reason. It will also emit a red light. On the other hand, if things are okay, the base station light will give you the green light.
The Owlet also includes an optional free app that allows you to track your baby’s heart rate and oxygen saturation from your iPhone. The app communicates with the base station through Bluetooth. You can use the Owlet without the app. You don’t need WiFi for the device to work. Still, the app is convenient. The app allows you to get vitals in real time.
More to Know
Sizes: The Owlet Smart Sock comes in three sizes and fits babies from birth to 18 months (or less) depending on your baby’s size.
Safety testing: According to Owlet’s co-founder, Jordan Monroe, the device has been tested on 3,000 babies in 3,000 homes in conjunction with physicians at the Mayo Clinic (made possible with a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health). “We’ve monitored over 2 million heart beats,” Monroe says. Their mission: To see if wireless pulse oximetry can help solve problems for consumers. The Owlet is currently undergoing clinical accuracy testing for FDA approval as a wireless medical device (to be sold to hospitals).
Data dump: If you buy an Owlet, you’ll be cyber stalked (in a nice way). “We’re tracking information on everyone who uses the Owlet for research,” Monroe says, including autism and sleep deficiencies. “You can opt out. Otherwise, you’re in.”
The Owlet Smart Sock has not yet been cleared by the FDA as a medical device. The upshot? It’s not a substitute for a hospital pulse oximeter, if your doctor recommends one. Also, the Owlet doesn’t profess to help prevent SIDS.
Similar to the Owlet, the Baby Vida is a foot cuff that uses pulse oximetry to measure your baby’s heart rate and oxygen saturation levels. It transmits that information via Bluetooth low-emission technology to your smart phone (iPhone or Android).
Unlike the Owlet though, the Baby Vida must be used with your smart phone or tablet computer. In other words, your smart phone or tablet is the base station.
To use it, you’ll need to:
- Place the Baby Vida sensor on your baby’s heel with the support strap.
- Slide the support sock over your baby’s foot, to hold the monitor in place.
- Download the free app and follow the instructions with your monitor.
How the Baby Vida Works
Tiny sensors in the heel cuff wirelessly monitor your baby’s heart rate and oxygen level, using light/pulse oximetry. If the levels of either fall below a predetermined range, the monitor sounds an alarm on your smart phone. There’s no light or alarm in your baby’s room. The device in the sock has a battery that lasts for up to 17 hours before it needs to be charged. It takes 2.5 hours to fully charge.
More to Know
Sizes: The Baby Vida pulse ox sock fits babies from birth to 1 year.
Clinical testing: “We hired a lab that compared this pulse oximetry monitor against hospital-grade monitors,” says Jeff Evans, who co-founded Baby Vida with his wife, Mollie. “It’s equivalent to a hospital-grade monitor, but it’s not a medical device.”
Like the Owlet, the Baby Vida monitor is not a medical device. It’s intended for “healthy” infants only, those with an average oxygen level of 94 percent or above. It doesn’t profess to help prevent SIDS.
The MonBaby smart button is a wearable movement detector monitor that’s designed to tell you when your baby rolls over onto her stomach when she’s sleeping. It will also sound an alarm if your baby stops breathing for 15 seconds or more. You track your baby’s breathing and body position through your iPhone or Android phone in real time.
How it Works
The MonBaby Smart Button snaps onto your baby’s clothing. The sensor in the Button uses a MEMs 14bit accelerometer to track your baby’s movements 6.25 times per second. This information is transmitted to your iPhone through the MonBaby app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology.
More to Know
Radar: Choking hazard? The company says MonBaby Smart Button passes the choking tube test. The inner enclosure measures 1.3 inches, which means it’s too large to fit through a choking tube, which is 1.25 inches in diameter. If you’re still worried about choking, you can setup an alarm for a spike in activity, which could signal that your baby is playing with the smart button.
MonBaby has a 40 to 60-foot range. The company recommends placing your smart phone and the MonBaby button in the same or adjacent rooms.
Like the Owlet and Baby Vida monitors, the MonBaby isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, including SIDS.
Safety Experts Weigh In
Wearable baby monitors must pass safety standards related to phthalates, lead and small parts (choking hazards) in accordance with Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Otherwise, they’re not strictly regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the FDA or the FTC.
In short, the safety data behind these wearable devices is very much in its infancy.
Because wearable baby monitors use Bluetooth technology, they rely on radio-frequency (RF) energy, a form of electromagnetic radiation, to function. Although the RF energy wireless devices give off is weak and presumed to be safe (it’s not the same radiation used in an X-ray), increasing evidence suggests that it may pose health hazards, especially if it’s emitted close to your body.
Consider: The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified the RF energy wireless electronic devices emit as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
“There’s no way a wearable baby monitor is good idea, barring a seriously ill infant that’s in an incubator,” says Devra Davis, Ph.D., founder and president of the nonprofit Environmental Health Trust. The non-profit organization educates individuals, health professionals and communities about controllable environmental health risks and policy changes needed to reduce those risks.
“Any exposure to radiofrequency radiation from a newborn baby is very dangerous,” adds David O. Carpenter, M.D., director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany. “Exposure to radiofrequency radiation falls off with distance. The farther an RF-energy-emitting device, such as your cell phone, is from your body, the better. If you put a monitor right on babies, they’re going to get the full whammy of whatever intensity of radiofrequency radiation is used.”
“I wouldn’t go to the point of saying that absolutely no parent should consider a wearable baby monitor,” Dr. Carpenter says. “I do think, however, that every parent who is even thinking about it should be very aware of the risks that are documented and even of the risks that aren’t as well documented, but that appear to be likely. For a normal newborn or young child, I think the risks significantly outweigh the benefits,” he says.
Still, there are always exceptions, such as the case of Stephanie Sjogren and how a wearable baby monitor, the Owlet, saved her little Andrew from suffocating on his own regurgitated infant formula while he was sleeping.
“It’s crazy to think what would have happened if I hadn’t had the Owlet,” Sjogren says. “Even a regular baby monitor wouldn’t have helped.”
Sandra Gordon helps new parents gear up safely and for less at www.babyproductsmom.com.