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Photos (from top): Handout, Facebook, and Noah Berger/AP

Infant information

Technology | New infant sleep monitors help some parents rest easy, but the health benefits are questionable

Issue: "Inside the wire," March 22, 2014

A plethora of new at-home baby monitors promises to make babies as closely observed as some hospital patients. Junior’s vital signs or breathing patterns, beamed from crib to smartphone, give some new parents peace of mind. But such monitoring so far appears ineffective for preventing what those parents probably fear the most: sudden infant death syndrome, known as SIDS.

The new baby tracking trend comes in multiple shapes and sizes. For example, the Snuza monitor clips onto a baby’s diaper and gently vibrates against the stomach if he or she doesn’t breath for 15 seconds (after 20 seconds, an alarm sounds). SafeToSleep and iBabyGuard use a mat placed beneath the baby to detect movement and stream graphics to a smartphone showing the baby’s breathing patterns. Another, the Mimo kimono onesie, tracks sleep time, skin temperature, and body position using a turtle-shaped transmitter embedded in the garment. (There’s even a “smart sock,” made by Owlet, worn on a baby’s foot to monitor heart rate and oxygen levels.) 

Chelsea Day, writing for the Disney website BabyZone, said she was a “nervous wreck” after bringing her firstborn son home from the hospital, anxious whether he would stop breathing in the middle of the night from SIDS, the little-understood, leading cause of death for U.S. infants. Anxious, that is, until she slipped a breathing monitor beneath him: “Overkill? Maybe. But it was the only thing that put my worried mind at ease enough to finally get some sleep.”

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The problem is such monitors may be giving parents a false sense of security. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics say there is no evidence that monitors reduce the chance of SIDS. 

Some companies would like to claim otherwise. “[A] baby sleep monitor is helpful in detecting sudden infant death syndrome or crib death when it occurs and may give sufficient warning to revive the baby,” states the website of Amperor Inc., a company that sells infant pulse monitors and has corporate headquarters in Houston.

The CJ Foundation for SIDS notes that even 20 seconds of sleep apnea—paused breathing—is common among healthy newborns. It does not recommend monitoring, even to reduce the anxiety of parents: In addition to worrying about the baby, they’ll have to worry all night about smartphone alarms, breathing patterns, and temperature readouts of little consequence.

On the other hand, good research on SIDS and monitors is limited. A 2012 review of scientific literature found that only one out of 11 studies of home monitoring were of “high-level” quality. The review authors concluded “there is no high-level evidence that home monitoring may be of use in preventing SIDS.” But they added, “Further research is needed.”

Until then, many parents will probably keep tuning in to Junior’s breathing patterns each night and naptime, stressful or not.

False identities

Associated Press/Photo by Noah Berger

Social network Facebook in February introduced dozens of additional options for users who prefer not to describe themselves as “male” or “female.” With input from gay advocacy group GLAAD, Facebook began offering 56 “custom” gender descriptions. Among them: androgynous, bigender, gender fluid, genderqueer, pangender, trans male, trans female, trans person, transmasculine, two-spirit—none of which seem likely to help us better understand our nontraditional friends. —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is managing editor of WORLD Magazine and lives in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.


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