Despite what you might think after strolling down the aisles of your nearest baby gear depot store, devices that monitor your baby's breathing, heart rate, and movement aren't actually approved for or proven to prevent unexplained infant death, or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
While most of the companies that create these products will tell you in the fine print that they are not intended or created to prevent SIDS or death, they make claims that their products will reduce parents' anxiety and allow for a better night's sleep when there is a device in place that alerts if baby is experiencing dangerous symptoms.
Here's the problem: there is no product on the market that can guarantee a child's safety during sleep (or otherwise, for that matter). Allowing parents to believe they can "rest easy" when they have a device to monitor their baby's health and well being is misleading at best and harmful at worst. When parents and caregivers rely too much on machines and devices instead of using their own eyes, ears, and gut instincts to look after their babies, they could miss or dismiss important cues and symptoms from their babies that can't be seen on a screen.
Real symptoms that parents should be on the lookout for in babies who may have breathing difficulties or undiagnosed medical issues are: if baby has periods of not breathing, going limp, or turning blue, or if baby stops breathing or gags excessively after spitting up. If you notice these symptoms, call your pediatrician immediately. If you notice that your baby has stopped breathing or is turning blue, get medical help immediately by calling 911.
Infant smart monitors also can cause false alarms that signal problems in an otherwise healthy baby, or miss symptoms allowing parents to believe that baby is fine and healthy when she is not. This kind of inconsistency is unsafe, and certainly not worthy of the high price tag or claims of "peace of mind."
When the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released an updated statement on creating a safe sleep environment for infants and babies, they stated that "the use of cardiorespiratory monitors has not been documented to decrease the incidence of SIDS.” Thankfully, there are many other proven ways and tips to make your baby's sleep environment as safe as possible, most of which costs nothing at all!
Proven Ways to Create Safe Sleep for Infants and Babies
List adapted from recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
1. Lay baby on their back for sleep for every sleep (nighttime and naps).
2. Put baby to sleep on a firm surface with only a fitted sheet and no soft, fluffy, or plush bedding, blankets, crib bumpers, or stuffed toys.
3. Breastfeeding, especially exclusively breastfeeding, is associated with a lower risk of SIDS.
4. Babies should share their parents' room (not their bed) in a safe sleep surface near their parents' bed, ideally for the first 12 months and at least the first 6 months.
5. Keep loose bedding and soft objects away from baby's sleep area.
6. Consider offering a pacifier, as there is a positive association with reduced risk of SIDS. It's recommended to wait to introduce a pacifier after breastfeeding is well established, and it is not recommended to "force" pacifier use on babies who are disinterested.
7. Avoid smoke exposure during pregnancy and around baby after birth, including avoiding parents' smoking as well as allowing smoke in/around baby's environment.
8. Avoid alcohol and drug use during pregnancy, and avoid alcohol and drug use after birth, especially if sharing a bed with your baby.
9. Look for signs of baby overheating, and avoid any face/head covering on baby. Babies should be dressed in no more than one layer more than an adult. Signs of overheating include flushed cheeks, sweating, and when baby's chest is hot to the touch.
10. Seek and maintain regular prenatal care.
11. Follow AAP and CDC's recommendation for regular immunizations.
12. Avoid devices sold that do not align with safe sleep recommendations, including sleep positioners and wedges, as well as other devices meant to be placed in the adult bed for the purpose of separating parent and infant.