Dr Levine looks at the many baby monitors on the market to find the one that provides the most bang for the buck, all while being easy to use.
As an expectant parent (and now a new father!!) who also happens to be an ob/gyn as well as a technophile, I am frequently asked for advice about baby monitors. Before preparing my future child’s nursery, I thought there were only 2 types of monitors: audio only and audio + video. However, after searching the Internet, talking to friends who have kids, and making a couple trips to my local electronics store, I learned that I was really wrong!
In fact, the 2 types of monitors are really the Nest Cam and everything else. However, before breaking down the differences between the 5 major monitors on the market, here are some general things you should think about when looking for a baby monitoring solution.
RANGE: How far can I go while still keeping my baby in sight (or sound)?
SECURITY: Is this device analog or digital? Digital devices (including Wi-Fi) typically encrypt the audio and video streams which allows for improved privacy (especially important when living in an apartment building).
DISPLAY: How well can I see my baby? Is it all grainy? Can I zoom in? Can I pan-and-tilt? Does the monitor have night-vision?
AUDIO: How well can I hear my child’s cries without having to listen to tons of static? Also, does the device offer push-to-talk features to let me speak to the child remotely? Lastly, does it play lullabies?
BATTERIES: Is the device rechargeable? Does it need to be plugged in? Is the device a hazard or a risk for the baby eventually pulling it into the crib?
SIZE: Is the monitor going to take up the entire night table or can I carry it around my home?
MULTIPLE RECEIVERS: Am I forced to take a receiver everywhere I go? Can I set up 1 receiver in my bedroom and 1 in another room? Will the device allow me to use my smartphone or tablet as a receiver?
SETUP: Probably the most important feature I care about! How easy is the device to actually set up and use? Do I need to call tech support just to get the device online?
Nest CamThe reason I say that the Nest Cam is in a group of its own is because it is the most dramatically different monitor out there. The Nest Cam is truly a home security solution. It was designed to allow for low-profile continuous video and audio monitoring of “spaces” such as rooms, basements, and backyards. The Nest Cam has beautiful iPhone/Android/desktop interfaces that allow for easy-to-navigate video reviews, but it’s really a security camera, not a baby monitor. As I quickly learned from my product review, the Nest Cam is limited in that it does not have the ability to pan and tilt; despite having a 130-degree wide-angle camera lens, it cannot move unless you move it. The quality of the video is spectacular, but to review the video at a later date (a 10- or 30-day interval) requires a subscription to the cloud-based NestAware service, which can cost as much as $300 per year! And, the monitor requires either a computer or a smart device to receive the image. If you don’t have a connected device, that could be another big expense. In short, I bought 2 Nest Cams to monitor events in my apartment, but it’s not what I’m going to use to monitor my baby on a nightly basis.
Summer Infant Babble BandWhen I first started writing this article, I had my mind set on video-based monitors only. However, after speaking to friends with toddlers, I realized that video is a luxury, not a necessity. If the baby is crying, you are going to go in the room instead of using grainy night-vision-esque video to try to figure out the reason for the crying. The Babble Band is the “first and only wearable audio monitor for parents to monitor and feel close to baby wherever they are in the house.” This wearable device, which is audio only, let’s you hear your baby’s cry from your wrist. However, if you want to go to sleep or sit with guests who may not want to hear the audio, you simply press a button to switch the device to vibrate mode, which alerts the wearer to activity/noise with a pulsing vibration. The audio is digitally encrypted and the monitoring device serves as the charging base for the wearable receiver. The Summer Infant Babble Band was the cheapest baby monitor I reviewed.
iBaby LabsWhat appears to be the most popular monitor among my friends, Amazon reviewers, and baby websites is the iBaby Labs M6T (now updated to the M6S). This sleek device offers an impressive 360-degree pan and 110-degree tilt with a simple swipe of the finger while still offering impressive audio and video, all streamed digitally through Wi-Fi to any smartphone. In addition, the device monitors for temperature and humidity. Of course, like the Nest Cam, it requires a compliant device, but the app and monitor are up to the challenge of keeping a watchful eye on the baby. It also offers the ability to push-to-talk to the baby and it can even record soothing messages for when you’re not there but watching diligently from afar.
Mimo Baby Activity TrackerWhen I first learned about Mimo’s baby tracking solutions, it reminded me of a debate about home fetal monitoring that I saw once at an ACOG conference. One professor argued that at-home monitoring would lead to more interventions because we don’t have enough data to know about the normal activity of a baby in-utero. The other professor argued that if a pattern could be obtained for each baby, deviations from baseline could be identified and interventions could potentially prevent untoward outcomes. I left that debate unsure of the right answer, and I feel the same way about Mimo’s products.
Mimo Baby Sleep TrackerThe Baby Activity Tracker is probably the first smart washable crib sheet that “show[s] parents their baby’s sleep activity and movement on their smartphone or tablet.” The device does not offer audio or video, and instead solely transmits live data. It can send push alerts if no activity is noticed for a period of time and give a timeline of activity from the previous night each morning. Truth be told, I’m not sure if I’m qualified to interpret those data, and I’m not sure if I would feel reassured or more anxious as I reviewed the data digest each day.
Another Mimo product that has gotten significant traction is the Baby Sleep Tracker. It uses cotton kimonos and bodysuits to obtain highly accurate data about sleep activity, sleeping temperature, body position, activity level, and level of wakefulness. That device does offer live audio which, along with movement data, is sent digitally to any smartphone or tablet. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone who uses either of the Mimo devices exclusively, but I could see them being helpful for a certain subset of parents. That being said, I think if I was out to dinner and received an alert for no movement for 4 minutes and then learned that the baby was being bathed by the nanny, I would probably disconnect the device when I returned home.
Motorola - Smart NurseryAfter all of my research, I decided to get the Motorola - Smart Nursery Wi-Fi 1080p Video Baby Monitor for my precious baby. Although I really liked the features of the iBaby Labs M6S, I was swayed by a couple key differentiators in the Smart Nursery Baby Monitor. First, the device comes with a large, easy-to-use, 7” HD touch-panel monitor. The device has a range of up to 1000 feet outdoors or 165 feet indoors. The camera quietly pans 270 degrees while tilting 110 degrees and offers sharp infrared/night vision. The device has push-to-talk feature, which lets parents console the crying baby while making their way to the nursery. Like some of the other devices, it monitors temperature and humidity and logs these data on the easy-to-use smartphone Hubble monitoring app (which is also how you can watch the baby from your own smartphone). The Hubble system allows for capture of still images or video clips to share with friends/family, and it can support more than 1 Motorola Smart Nursery camera at a time, so multiple children in multiple rooms can be monitored seamlessly. Finally, the device supports recording directly to a MicroSD card, which allows for easy transfer of precious videos to your computer or smartphone. With these features taken together, the Motorola - Smart Nursery Wi-Fi 1080p Video Baby Monitor checks off every box in every category, and does so quite well!
In summary, baby monitors, like children, each have different features and abilities. Our parents never had baby monitors and we all turned out A-OK. However, we have all secretly agreed to be better than our parents, which means being increasingly neurotic and monitoring our children upon entry into this world. I only reviewed 5 solutions, but hundreds exist. Regardless of which system you pick, make sure it follows the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid), because if it’s too complicated to set up when you’re fully rested, you don’t have a chance of getting it to work when you’re exhausted!