Baby monitors abuse the vulnerability of parents for profit

Recently I was interviewed by a reporter about the effects of the newest baby monitors on parent-child relationships. A teddy bear with a camera in its nose hooks up to a TV, allowing parents to watch their baby’s every move.

One product called an exmobaby is actually worn against the baby’s skin and measures heart rate and respirations. A CEO of the company is quoted a saying, presumably as a selling point, “This continuous monitoring in real-time will allow for an ‘emotional umbilical cord’ between mother and child.” My conversation with this reporter got me thinking.

When we become parents we have the opportunity to open our hearts to a love unlike any other. This love may begin at the moment a mother learns she is pregnant. But in opening ourselves to this love, we take a risk. Though the idea is mostly out of our conscious awareness, in becoming parents we make ourselves vulnerable to an unlikely but real possibility of unbearable loss.

A central task of parenting is to manage our anxiety around this possibility. Not only when we put our children to bed, but when we let them go down a slide, go to preschool, go skiing in Europe. We allow them to separate and grow up. All along we must learn to manage our anxiety.

When I was pregnant with my son, we were told that he might have a very serious heart condition. He was followed with yearly tests and then last spring, when he was 12, we were told that he and his heart had grown to the point where the doctors felt we didn’t need to worry about it. Even now, every night when I say “Goodnight, I love you, see you in the morning,” I remember the gripping fear of loss. But when at the age of eight he begged to go to sleep away camp like his big sister, we let him go.

Now along come these baby monitors which, in my opinion, abuse this vulnerability for profit. Certainly if a baby has an identified medical condition, monitoring of heart rate and respirations may be indicated. But these monitors need to be used carefully and under supervision of a health care provider. For a baby who has no such identified risk, there is no reason to monitor him. Putting a child under the age of six months to sleep on his back does more to protect him than any baby monitor ever could. A simple audio monitor that allows parents to hear a baby if he cries during the night many be helpful. But unless you have a huge house, or are having a party, you will generally be able to hear your baby’s cry during the night, and even that may not be necessary.

Another drawback of these monitors is that they send parents a message that it is not OK to leave your baby to do adult activities. What about watching a movie instead of your baby on TV? I read a recent blog post with the title Attachment Parenting — Is It a Prison for Moms? Attachment parenting is a style of parenting described by William Sears that advocates for a mother to be with her child as much as possible, including carrying and co-sleeping. (It is distinct from and unrelated to John Bowlby’s attachment theory.) These are fine choices if parents wish to make them. But it is important to recognize that solid relationship between parents, one that is often fostered by having adult time together, can contribute significantly to a child’s healthy emotional development. It helps both parents and child negotiate the challenging task of separation.

As I approach the age of 50, I am aware that I need to work hard to be open minded to new technologies. But to high tech baby monitors, I give it an unequivocal thumbs down.

Claudia M. Gold is a pediatrician who blogs at Child in Mind and is the author of Keeping Your Child in Mind.

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  • CholeraJoe

    This bleeds over into the “helicopter parents” who hover over their children monitoring every move and constantly coaching them. I know one woman who still checks her college senior’s term papers for grammar and content.

  • Dave

    I disagree with the attachment parenting/baby carrying comments. If anything, using a baby carrier is liberating. At the ages you use them (0-9 months or whatever) a child is pretty easily entertained. My baby enjoys being carried around while I do house chores and it’s a lot easier (though a bit of a strain on my back) to have him there than having to check in on him, not to mention it’s much more stimulating for him as well. Just don’t cook with the baby in a carrier (there have been babies badly burned/lit on fire by people doing this).

    If you follow some of the idea present in attachment parenting, a baby monitor is indeed useless. Co-sleeping doesn’t seem to be the best idea, however, placing the crib in the family bedroom for the first year or so (until the baby starts waking up at night wanting to party) is a solid idea, much older than attachment parenting. In fact, this is considered normal in many islamic cultures (it’s common for the children to either co-sleep or have their crib in the parent’s bedroom until 2 years of age). While i am not muslim, my islamic acquaintances have told me that scriptures actually state that you don’t have to kick the kids out until they are 7, though obviously, as stated before, many kick the children out by the age of 2 (which is also the earliest age that breastfeeding can be stopped). Also it is equally as important for the father to be in the same room as it is for the mother (no sleeping on the couch in another room/shirking taking care of the baby).

    As for co-sleeping being a burden to the mother, if done correctly, it need not be (though I still feel having a crib in the bedroom is safer than having the baby in the bed). Having the father involved is important. For example, my deal is such that, I get the baby if he fusses during the night. If he needs noms I place him next to my wife, who then feeds him while she is half awake. At the end, he goes back in the crib. I think the only problems with attachment parenting arise when both parents don’t participate equally. Unequal participation not only overburdens the mother, but can distance the father.

  • paul

    i kept our baby in the bedroom in a bassinet for the first 2 months, then moved him into his own room w crib after that, with a monitor for a few more months.

    but forget the monitors- first pull those ridiculous wedges off the market- the ones that keep your baby on their back.

  • westeasterly

    Spending extra money and feeling like your child is safer is a valuable service…. Just because the service is the FEELING of safety, rather than SAFETY itself, doesn’t change that fact. People allow themselves to be financially exploited for all kinds of psychological gains- “organic” and “free-range” foods, vitamins and supplements promising “health” and “energy,” the latest weight-loss miracle pill, and even internet firewalls that an average 9th grader can bypass. There are few examples in this world where spending money genuinely makes you feel good, so when it does work, I say go for it. And besides, as a computer geek and someone in the medical profession, I love the idea of real-time wireless telemetry being beamed from my baby to the palm of my hand. It might not make my baby safer, but it sure does sound cool, in a nerdy kind of way.

  • David Bychkov

    As the person cited in your blog, let me please add that Exmobaby is currently only being marketed to physicians for use under their supervision. Secondly, please note that wireless vital sign monitoring of infants is not only useful for allaying the fears of first time parents, it is also useful for detecting and observing psychophysiological changes in the baby as well. If you are a parent of a baby with autism, for example, using Exmobaby to observe and record physiological data symptomatic of emotional changes can be useful.

    • SteveBMD

      Let me get this straight. The Exmobaby can be used to measure data “symptomatic of emotional changes” in an autistic child?

      I’m interested in how a parent might use this data, as well as the science behind this claim. However, your website contains no links to any literature sources demonstrating the clinical utility of your device.

      Could you please inform us as to what data are collected, and what a new parent might do with such information?

  • Vox Rusticus

    Sounds like a consumer issue, not a medical issue. There are plenty of folks who like to be consumer watchdogs.

  • Brian Holcriss

    Before anyone buys into anything Exmovere CEO Bychkov states, you need to take at look at this link. Turns out Exmovere has been under active investigation by the Virginia SCC for the last year, that the SEC placed a stop order on selling their stock – and it now looks like the feds are involved as prompted by the state of Virginia.

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