You can now con­nect your in­fant’s crib, one­sie and di­a­per to the Web. Please don’t.

Gad­gets won’t re­lieve your par­ent­ing angst, says Laura June

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Laura June is a free­lance writer and editor. She was a found­ing fea­tures editor of the Verge, a Web site about tech­nol­ogy and cul­ture. Twit­ter: @lau­ra_june

Par­ent­ing to­day, I learned when I had my first child 16 months ago, reaps many ben­e­fits from the dig­i­tal age. I or­der most of my di­a­pers and sup­plies from Ama­zon, and they show up a day later. No more pan­icked night trips to the store. The In­ter­net has made the pric­ing of all sorts of items very com­pet­i­tive. And I have in­stant dig­i­tal ac­cess to my daugh­ter’s med­i­cal records, im­mu­niza­tions and weight charts.

It’s tempt­ing, then, to make the men­tal leap from “Hey, I can or­der di­a­pers when­ever I need them!” to “Tech­nol­ogy can solve all of our prob­lems!” And it’s just this kind of utopian think­ing — that new gad­gets can some­how soothe many of the most long­stand­ing par­ent­ing prob­lems and anx­i­eties — that seems to be be­hind the latest wave of high-tech baby prod­ucts that bring the “In­ter­net of Things” into the nurs­ery.

The re­sult? Count­less ef­forts to im­prove upon what is al­ready good enough. In­stead of di­a­pers that leak less, com­pa­nies cre­ate di­a­pers with wire­less-en­abled mois­ture sen­sors or even those that — at a price 30 to 40 per­cent more than tra­di­tional dis­pos­able di­a­pers — will test your baby’s urine for all sorts of health in­di­ca­tors. There’s the Baby Gigl, a bot­tle sleeve that mon­i­tors how much your baby drinks and tracks it in an app, alerts you if the bot­tle is clogged (though I would guess your baby would be the first to let you know that), and sig­nals the proper an­gle to hold the bot­tle so your baby doesn’t gulp too much air, promis­ing that this “pre­vents colic.” The sleeve, which will cost around $100 when­ever it hits the re­tail mar­ket, com­pared with $6 or $7 for the low-tech glass bot­tles that used to be prici­est you could buy, is made to fit larger-than-nor­mal bot­tles, and it needs three bat­ter­ies to run. Then there’s the Pacif-i elec­tronic paci­fier and the In­tel Smart Clip, which alerts you when you for­get your baby in the car. These gad­gets man­aged to drum up plenty of press cov­er­age when they were shown off at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Jan­uary.

The merger of the In­ter­net of Things with baby gear — or the In­ter­net of Ba­bies — is not a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment. The mind-set of a first-time par­ent can be summed up as: terror. When you leave the hos­pi­tal with a frag­ile new­born, all the hor­ri­ble “what if?” sce­nar­ios sud­denly seem very likely, and par­ent­ing books ei­ther don’t go far enough in calm­ing those fears or they ex­ac­er­bate them, nam­ing hun­dreds of ail­ments your baby will al­most cer­tainly never suf­fer from. So you worry. In the first few weeks of our daugh­ter’s life, her fa­ther and I fret­ted about whether her room was too cold or too hot, whether she was get­ting enough to eat, whether she had jaun­dice, whether she was wet­ting enough di­a­pers (a lack of urine is a sign of jaun­dice!), whether she was poop­ing enough, whether the color and con­sis­tency of the poop was good or bad, whether she was breath­ing oddly. When she slept loudly, we wor­ried that she wasn’t sleep­ing well; when she slept silently, we won­dered if she had died.

The great­est source of stress, though, was SIDS, sud­den in­fant death syn­drome, which, for rea­sons un­known, kills about 3,500 sleep­ing ba­bies un­der the age of 1 in the United States each year, mak­ing it the No. 1 cause of death for in­fants. The num­bers have been halved since the 1994 in­tro­duc­tion of the “Back to Sleep” cam­paign by the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Child Health and Hu­man De­vel­op­ment (NICHD), which laid out a few sim­ple guide­lines to make sud­den death less likely. Par­ents are now rou­tinely told by doc­tors and nurses to put their ba­bies to sleep on their backs; don’t use blan­kets or pil­lows; don’t leave toys in the crib; make sure the room the

Par­ents think they can buy their way to eas­ier days and safer nights. This is an il­lu­sion.

baby sleeps in isn’t too hot. Of course, a ne­far­i­ous range of high-tech baby prod­ucts has emerged to stoke these fears. New par­ents, af­ter all, are easy tar­gets.

Sev­eral man­u­fac­tur­ers have de­vised pads to be placed un­der a sleep­ing baby to mon­i­tor his move­ments and alert you if he hasn’t moved for a while. In Novem­ber 2013, one of those com­pa­nies, An­gel­care, re­called 600,000 such mon­i­tors and of­fered “re­pair kits” af­ter two in­fants died of stran­gu­la­tion on the mon­i­tor’s cords. (The Con­sumer Prod­uct Safety Com­mis­sion counts seven deaths by stran­gu­la­tion on baby-mon­i­tor cords since 2002.) An­gel­care still sells these mon­i­tors, pre­sum­ably im­proved, and the mar­ket for high-tech baby sleep gear is more crowded than ever. The latest ver­sions: The $299 Sprout­ling mon­i­tor, cur­rently sold out, at­taches to your baby’s an­kle and tells you her heart rate, body tem­per­a­ture and move­ment pat­terns. The Owlet bootie, for $249, sup­pos­edly alerts you if your baby stops breath­ing. And the Lit­tle Lo­tus is a suc­cess­ful Kick­starter pro­ject for a $150 sleep swad­dle that uses “NASA tech­nol­ogy” to keep your baby’s body at the “per­fect temp.”

For the sake of par­ents who would pay any price to find the per­fect tem­per­a­ture for their ba­bies, let’s be clear: There is no per­fect tem­per­a­ture, not even for three hun­dred bucks. “About room tem­per­a­ture” will do, un­less your baby has med­i­cal is­sues that re­quire some­thing more pre­cise. What’s more, the NICHD, which writes the guide­lines for re­duc­ing SIDS, says, “Do not use home heart or breath­ing mon­i­tors to re­duce the risk of SIDS,” be­cause “these baby mon­i­tors do not re­duce or de­tect” it. The agency rec­om­mends that you keep any­thing that is not your baby or her pa­ja­mas out of the crib. To be clear, the gov­ern­ment agency that cre­ates safety guide­lines for our chil­dren rec­om­mends not us­ing these de­vices, and it fur­ther states that they “have not been tested for safety.”

It’s not just anx­i­ety and fear lead­ing this mar­ket, of course, and the prob­lems these gad­get-mak­ers are try­ing to solve range from mun­dane an­noy­ances to worst-case sce­nar­ios. We have wrist­bands to tell us how much (or how lit­tle) we walk, apps to re­mind us to wa­ter our plants, ther­mostats and smoke de­tec­tors con­nected to our WiFi net­works. So why wouldn’t we want the same type of aware­ness of what our kids are up to? All of this, we think, makes us feel “con­nected”— to our fam­i­lies, our friends and our homes. In these early months of preg­nancy and life, par­ents un­der­stand­ably think they can buy their way to eas­ier days and safer nights. This is, sadly, an il­lu­sion.

We all know that as great as our smart­phones are, there’s noth­ing worse than when the bat­tery dies. A three-bat­tery baby bot­tle that runs out of juice is an­noy­ing. But imag­ine a mal­func­tion­ing mon­i­tor, bleep­ing its alarm to tell you that your baby has stopped breath­ing, when in fact the only thing wrong is the Du­ra­cell.

All of this comes from a good place. We want to en­sure the safety of our chil­dren. And as an avid lover of tech­nol­ogy and what it’s ca­pa­ble of, I want that, too. But where these de­vices prom­ise re­as­sur­ance, they will de­liver only in­creased anx­i­ety. Let’s try not to make the first few months of par­ent­ing any more com­pli­cated than they need to be. Let’s leave the con­stant mon­i­tor­ing of our ba­bies’ tem­per­a­ture and heart rate to the pros, and try to re­lax, just a lit­tle.


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