Baby on board Is there re­ally any need to mon­i­tor your baby’s move­ments 24/ 7?

Just be­cause you can mon­i­tor your baby’s ev­ery ‘ mi­cro- move­ment’ and ‘ mo­tion event’ doesn’t mean you should, writes Jen­nifer O’Connell

The Irish Times Magazine - - NEWS -

d‘ e‘ Are th­ese vices re­ally en­sur­ing the safety of the next gen­er­a­tion, or are they prey­ing on the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of anx­ious, over­achiev­ing par­ents?

‘ No par­ent can watch over their pre­cious one at all times,” goes the ad­ver­tis­ing blurb for a mon­i­tor that clips on to your baby’s nappy and sets off an alarm if they stop mov­ing.

Th­ese days, though, any par­ent pre­pared to splash out can con­duct a sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tion that would make the CIA’s ef­forts look slap­dash.

There are clip- on mon­i­tors you at­tach to your baby’s nappy or baby­gro to track ev­ery “mi­cro- move­ment”, and alert you by text if they should stop mov­ing, all the while mas­sag­ing your baby’s tummy.

There are “womb mu­sic mon­i­tors” of­fer­ing live au­dio streams of kicks and hic­cups (¤ 50 plus ship­ping from Ama­zon).

There are baby breath­ing mon­i­tors (¤ 91 plus ship­ping from Ama­zon) and “smart socks” to track your baby’s heart rate and oxy­gen lev­els while they sleep ($ 300 from Owlet, only avail­able in the US and Canada).

Par­ents can set their phone to synch with the smart sock so that it sends them reg­u­lar “real- time well­ness data” up­dates.

There are mon­i­tors you can at­tach to your baby’s neck to track how many times they swal­low while breast­feed­ing, pro­vid­ing “moth­ers with real- time knowl­edge of their baby’s milk in­take and nurs­ing habits.

“Our proven tech­nol­ogy de­tects and analy­ses your baby swal­lows by ap­ply­ing so­phis­ti­cated sig­nal and pat­tern recog­ni­tion tech­niques,” prom­ises the Mom­sense breast­feed­ing me­ter (¤ 57 from Ama­zon).

It al­lows you to lis­ten live via ear­phones to your baby’s swal­lows and record the au­dio from each breast­feed­ing ses­sion, pre­sum­ably so you can play it back for de­lighted friends and fam­ily later.

When it comes to baby sleep mon­i­tors, gone are the crackly de­vices with the so­phis­ti­ca­tion and range of Buzz Lightyear’s walkie- talkie. Even low- spec de­vices to­day come wifi- en­abled and of­fer video sur­veil­lance, and many have ad­di­tional fea­tures like night vi­sion tem­per­a­ture mon­i­tor­ing, or alerts to let you know if a blan­ket has slipped off.

There’s the MonBaby Smart But­ton (¤ 112 from Ama­zon), which clips on to your in­fant’s baby­gro, and sends breath­ing and move­ment data to your phone. An alarm is ac­ti­vated if the un­think­able oc­curs, and your baby rolls on to their stom­ach or falls over. It also dou­bles as a sleep tracker.

So does t he Mimo smart mon­i­tor ($ 123.90, only avail­able in the US), which records “mo­tion events” and claims to help par­ents “see pat­terns they never thought ex­isted and de­velop plans to im­prove sleep rou­tines”. The Mimo synchs up to a par­ent’s Nest home- mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem, so you can re­motely ad­just the tem­per­a­ture of the nurs­ery and get no­ti­fi­ca­tions of any un­usual ac­tiv­ity to your phone.

“Asleep on their side. Un­usu­ally low tem­per­a­ture,” one such alert might read.

Some high- tech par­ents by­pass baby mon­i­tors al­to­gether, pre­fer­ring to co- opt their Nest cam­era to train it on their sleep­ing child. And for those who favour the more sur­rep­ti­tious sur­veil­lance route, there are cam­eras dis­guised as tiny ro­bot toys, so the nanny never needs to know you’re mon­i­tor­ing her. For a few euro ex­tra, you can up­grade your mon­i­tor with a wide an­gle or even a 360- de­gree lens.

The 24- hour mon­i­tor­ing ca­pa­bil­ity doesn’t have to stop when the baby leaves the house. Many creches of­fer live video streams. When the lit­tle ones grad­u­ate to school- go­ing age, there are GPS track­ing de­vices dis­guised as pen­dants, watches, keyrings or hair­bands.

But just be­cause you can now mon­i­tor your baby’s ev­ery “mi­cro- move­ment” and “mo­tion event” ev­ery mo­ment of ev­ery day doesn’t mean you should. Are th­ese de­vices re­ally en­sur­ing the safety of the next gen­er­a­tion, or are they prey­ing on the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of anx­ious, over­achiev­ing par­ents? And could they even be feed­ing into the anx­i­eties they claim to as­suage?

John Sharry, The Ir­ish Times par­ent­ing ex­pert, says tech­nol­ogy is a neu­tral force: what mat­ters is how we use it.

“Tech­nol­ogy can help peo­ple to feel more con­nected and see their chil­dren dur­ing the day, es­pe­cially with things like live video streams from creches. As­sum­ing it’s trans­par­ent and not covert, and all the staff are aware of it, I don’t see a prob­lem with it. If the par­ent is anx­ious any­way, and if it helps them feel con­nected and re­as­sures them that their chil­dren are be­ing well looked af­ter, then it’s a good thing. It’s when the mon­i­tor­ing be­comes ob­ses­sive, it might be prob­lem­atic.”

This po­ten­tial down­side is ap­par­ent on the cus­tomer re­views for the award- win-

ning Owlet smart socks on Ama­zon. One par­ent writes: “With the Owlet I can check my phone and see that my LO [ lit­tle one]’ s stats are nor­mal with­out hav­ing to get up at night and ac­tu­ally lean over the crib and try and see if he’s breath­ing.”

But, she adds, “Half the time I can’t even tell with­out turn­ing on a light any­way and by that point I’m so awake that I can’t get back to sleep even though the baby’s to­tally fine and sleep­ing soundly.”

That par­ent gave it five stars – even if it doesn’t sound like it has been a to­tally life- en­hanc­ing ad­di­tion to the house­hold. I can sym­pa­thise. When my sec­ond child was born early and quite a bit un­der­weight, my in­stinct to catas­trophise went into over­drive. I bought so many dis­in­fec­tant wipes, gels and sprays I should have had shares in Mil­ton, and I also in­vested in a move­ment mon­i­tor that slot­ted in un­der­neath his mat­tress and set off an alarm if he stopped mov­ing.

While he thrived, I be­came more anx­ious, more deeply em­bed­ded in my state of hy­per- vigilance. I hardly slept, wak­ing at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals to the dull buzzing of the mon­i­tor. Sev­eral heart- stop­ping false alarms later, af­ter he learned to roll off the mat and press him­self against the edge of the cot, I could take it no more: I turned the thing off. And some­how, he sur­vived.

When my third child came along three years ago, we in­vested in one of the video mon­i­tors that had be­come a rou­tine part of ev­ery new par­ent’s sur­vival kit. Af­ter we moved her into her own room, I spent weeks ly­ing awake at night and star­ing at the mon­i­tor, will­ing her not to wake. By a happy twist of fate, it stopped work­ing when she was a few months old and we never re­placed it, opt­ing for the time- worn method of leav­ing both doors open. Al­most im­me­di­ately, I started sleep­ing bet­ter, and – mirac­u­lously – so did she. Or maybe I just didn’t hear her any­more. But once again, some­how, she sur­vived.

Lisa Kelly, a par­ent of two chil­dren, aged 6 and 4, had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence, us­ing a move­ment sen­sor which, she says “caused me no end of sleep­less nights”.

“The move­ment sen­sor seems like a good idea, but we found it went off if the baby moved off the pad or held her breath, which caused us to jump out of bed in fright on sev­eral oc­ca­sions when the alarm went off. We turned the pad off in the end.”

Kelly says she would be con­cerned about the se­cu­rity risks of wifi- en­abled mon­i­tors “and the abil­ity of third par­ties to ac­cess the im­age of the child and broad­cast it over the in­ter­net”.

Psy­chother­a­pist and au­thor of Bully- Proof Kids, Stella O’Mal­ley, is more con­cerned about the psy­cho­log­i­cal toll on par­ents. “It en­cour­ages the idea that if we re­lax for even a mo­ment that our lives will come crash­ing down and tragedy will strike,” she says.

“Mass mar­ket­ing is en­cour­ag­ing the lie that we can con­trol our fate, that we can avoid ac­ci­dents and re­move the pos­si­bil­ity of risk if we throw enough money at it. But we can’t. And vast amounts of gad­gets won’t stop ac­ci­dents hap­pen­ing – they gen­er­ally add to our ten­sion and stress.”

A par­ent her­self, O’Mal­ley says she used a stan­dard, au­dio- only, non- video baby mon­i­tor for two weeks when her first child was born. “Within about two weeks, I turned it off and never used it again. I could hear my baby cry­ing from a mil­lion miles away; those cries seared my heart and I would jump up and charge straight to her cot – I cer­tainly didn’t need an am­pli­fied ver­sion of her cries right be­side my bed to add to my height­ened emo­tions.”

Joe Lan­gan, who lives in Ash­bourne, Co Meath, with his wife, Cather­ine McGil­ly­cuddy, and their seven- month- old daugh­ter, Alice, dis­agrees. He says he is “a ra­tio­nal wor­rier. I think I very much as­so­ciate risk with sta­tis­tics. Hav­ing a baby mon­i­tor is very much tied up in as­suag­ing that fear.”

He is a fan of the fam­ily’s An­gel­care baby mon­i­tor, which in­cludes a mat­tress sen­sor. “It def­i­nitely re­as­sured us. We moved Alice into her own room af­ter four months be­cause, if any­thing, our sleep­ing was disturbing her. She’s done re­ally well on her own and as the weeks of no prob­lems rack up, the pan­icky feel­ings di­min­ished.”

They re­moved the sen­sor pad af­ter three months, but re­cently started us­ing it again at seven months, be­cause Alice of­ten ends up asleep on her stom­ach. “We as­so­ciate that – rightly or wrongly – with in­creased risk. And like the last time we used the sen­sor pad, the big­gest risk ends up be­ing our own foggy brains lead­ing us to pick Alice up in the mid­dle of the night to feed her, for­get­ting to switch off the pad, disturbing what­ever calm we’d es­tab­lished up to that point.”

But he stopped short at en­abling the fea­ture on the mon­i­tor that makes it beep ev­ery three sec­onds to con­firm that all is well.

“That’s a level of para­noia a lot of new par­ents could re­late to, but I think it also has the po­ten­tial to be a real hin­drance. Strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween what you can con­trol with tech­nol­ogy and what you should con­trol is vi­tal for your own san­ity.”

Top: Baby Alice Lan­gan re­as­sures her par­ents by sleep­ing on a mat­tress sen­sor. Above: a smart sock.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.