Sound Sleepers: Top things to consider when buying a baby monitor
If you want to invest in a baby monitor, doing the research first is vital, writes Isabel Hayes
When it comes to shopping for a new baby, a monitor is one of the first things on every expectant parent's list.
And these days, it's no simple chore. In recent years, baby monitors have moved on from simple audio units to hi-tech systems that include video cameras with night-vision capabilities, sensor mats to alert you if your baby stops breathing and smart device apps that let you see your child from afar.
So how do you decide on a system to suit you and your baby? How can you make sure you get the best use out of it? And is a baby monitor always absolutely necessary?
Laura Haugh, mum-in-residence at MummyPages.ie, believes it is. "You absolutely do need a baby monitor," she says. "Even if you are sleeping in the same room at night, you still need a monitor when they're sleeping during the day, so you can be sure they are safe."
A baby monitor will be needed for a few years, according to Haugh, so it's important to do your research. "The baby monitor you get is going to last you from the time your baby is a tiny infant all the way up to when they finish nap time, which is usually around the age of two-and-a-half or three," she explains. "Then, of course, you can use them again for subsequent children. It is an investment buy, so you need to make sure you get the right one."
Traditional audio units that alert you to your baby's cries with sound and flashing lights are the cheapest on the market, with prices starting from as little as €25. Monitors operating on an analogue frequency are pretty much a thing of the past, with the vast majority of monitors now operating on a digital frequency, which has better sound quality.
According to Dolores Judge, head of retail at Tony Kealys, audio monitors are now less and less popular with expectant parents. "Very few people buy basic audio monitors these days," she says. "It's all about vision now. It gives parents more peace of mind to see their baby rather than relying on sound alone. If you hear the baby making a sound, you can see them and know they're okay."
Basic video monitors are in black and white, but newer models offer colour screens with night-vision capabilities that enable you to see your baby clearly in the dark. Many have zoom functions, allowing you to look closely at your baby's face, and options to tilt and turn the camera - handy for when you're looking for a missing soother before you creep into a dark room.
Other special features can include a thermometer to let you monitor your child's bedroom temperature, lullaby sounds to soothe your baby to sleep and a recording function that lets you put your own music or voice on the system. Most models also have a talkback function that lets you talk to your child and soothe them without entering the room.
Haugh agrees that video monitors are extremely popular with parents these days. "You might hear a gurgle and wonder if they're okay, but you don't want to go in and disturb them unnecessarily," she says. "That's where video monitors really make a difference. In a recent forum discussion, one of our mums described how her child had been sick and if it wasn't for the video monitor, she wouldn't have known. It's also very useful for children when they learn to pull themselves up in the cot. It's good to be able to check if they are safe and to make sure they haven't caught their arm or leg in the bars of the cot."
Video monitors are expensive however. Basic models start at €100 but many are around the €250 mark or even higher. According to Judge, the bestselling video baby monitor in Tony Kealys is the Luvion Supreme Connect (€230) which has a 4.3-inch colour screen and a split view mode that allows parents to view children sleeping in different rooms.
Smartphone monitors, such as the Withings Smart Baby Monitor by Apple (€250) or the D-Link EyeOn Baby Camera (€130), are also becoming increasingly popular with tech-savvy parents. These cameras connect to your smartphone or smart device over the internet, allowing you to use your phone as a video. These systems let you remotely control features like lighting and lullabies and alert you when the temperature gets too hot or cold or even if your baby is overly restless. Parents who are not at home with their baby can also watch them remotely.
The downside of smartphone baby monitors is that you may not be able to travel with them if there's no internet available at your holiday destination. Using your phone as a baby monitor also means you'll have to leave it with the babysitter when you're going out. And recently, there have been reports in the US of predators hacking into internet baby monitors, allowing them to view people's homes.
Laura Haugh, of MummyPages.ie, says they are not aware of any such reports in Ireland, but their website recently published some advice on how to protect internet monitors from hackers. This advice includes turning it off when it's not in use, ensuring you have a secure password on your home internet and changing any default password that comes with the monitor.
For some parents, seeing and hearing their baby isn't quite enough and they want the added reassurance of a motion monitor that will alert them if their baby stops breathing. These are particularly useful for parents of premature babies or babies at higher risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), but according to Dolores Judge of Tony Kealys, they are becoming increasingly popular with all parents.
"More and more people are using movement pads," she says. "At the moment, the ratio is about 60/40, with 60pc of customers buying video monitors and 40pc opting for movement and sound monitors."
The Angelcare Sound and Movement Monitor (€129) is one of the bestselling monitors in Tony Kealys. It comes with a traditional audio unit and a sensor pad which is placed in the cot. This pad detects baby's slightest movements and sounds an alarm after 20 seconds if there is no movement. A new Angelcare system, which includes a video (€329), is expected to be equally popular.
Many of these baby-monitor functions help to assuage parental fears, but they can also lead to hyper-vigilance and increased anxiety, according to paediatric sleep consultant, Lucy Wolfe.
"I see a lot of parents who tell me they are constantly watching their child on the monitor, to the point where it's compulsive viewing," she says. "I'm all about encouraging parents not to micromanage sleep. When I hear of a baby rolling around, I say that's brilliant, they're self-settling. But some parents see that on the monitor and think they need to go in and interfere."
Babies naturally make lots of noise as they sleep, and monitors can amplify that, Wolfe says. "Often mums will tell me their own sleep is being disturbed - not because they had to get up for their child but because they can hear them or see them on the monitor. So, I think sometimes there is an argument for occasionally turning them down or turning them off, particularly when they are older and you're right next door to them. But I always tell my parents to do what makes them feel safe."
Top things to consider when buying a baby monitor
Ensure your monitor has a battery-life indicator that alerts you when the battery is running low.
Get a monitor that lights up when your baby cries. Sometimes you might have inadvertently turned the sound down or you might not hear it over the TV.
Make sure your monitor has a good range. 150 metres is the standard, but a monitor with 300 metres or more will ensure you still have a connection from the garden or through thick walls in older houses.
Always place the nursery monitor well out of reach from your child's cot. Plugs and cords can pose a danger for small children. If you want a video camera that lets you clearly see the child's face, invest in one with a good zoom function.
Try to place the monitor in a discreet location in the nursery. Babies, particularly as they get older, may find the monitor distracting. Sleep consultant Lucy Wolfe recommends covering the monitor light with duct tape if you feel it is distracting your baby.