Anxious parents now use gadgets to monitor their baby's every breath.
Image: Martin Loetzsch/Flickr
Ever since the first baby monitor debuted in 1937, there's been a tech market for gadgets geared to parents and their offspring. At this year's Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, there was no shortage of high-tech gizmos to help the next generation of parents navigate the nerve-wracking world of newborn care.
Vendors peddled everything from small buttons that monitor an infant's breathing rate while it sleeps to pastel-hued GPS watches that give parents the ability to track their child's whereabouts.
Not being a parent myself, I found it hard to determine whether these products were cute or creepy. Are they innovative aids to help parents do pretty normal stuff, like check in on their napping newborn or find their toddler after he darts into a crowd at the mall? Or do they take helicopter parenting to an all-new, high-tech level?
"There are a few voices that pop up and say 'that's extreme helicopter parenting,' but for the most part I think parents recognize that we live in a different world than we grew up in and it's stressful," said Spencer Behrend, founder of KiLife Tech.
KiLife makes the KiBand: a wearable 'digital leash.' Parents use Bluetooth to link the bracelet to their smartphone, set up parameters (like 50 ft from the center of the playground, for example), and if the child crosses the boundary, the parent is alerted and the bracelet lets off an alarm.
Behrend said they do get criticism on both ends, either saying such a device is unnecessarily hyper-vigilant or else calling it a lazy substitute for parenting.
"Every once in awhile someone will pop up and say 'good parents just watch their kids. You need to watch your kids better,'" he told me.
"We don't even need to defend ourselves because everybody comes to our defense and says 'Good parents lose track of their kids too, even just for a second.' If it's crowded enough, it only takes two or three steps into a crowd for a small child to disappear."
Behrend knows firsthand how easy it is to lose a child, even when you're watching closely: he lost his two-year-old son Kimball in a Fourth of July parade and couldn't find him for several minutes. He said it was a terrifying experience and the KiBand is intended to help avoid situations like that, not to track your child's every movement.
The makers of a Bluetooth-enabled pacifier that takes a child's temperature said the same thing.
"The intention is not to keep this in the child's mouth 24 hours a day, measuring their temperature constantly," said Mohamad Foustok, the chief technology officer for BlueMaestro, which makes the pacifier. He said it's a misconception they're hit with constantly, but it's meant to be a more advanced version of pacifier-shaped baby thermometers that already exist, syncing to a smart phone to make it easier to track and monitor a child's temperature when they're sick.
The MonBaby is a small wearable that clips to a newborn's onesie and uses a highly-sensitive accelerometer to determine the baby's breathing rate, movements, and position, sending all of the data to the parents' smartphones. If the child stops breathing or its breathing becomes irregular, the parent is notified instantly.
Daniel Klaynberg, the chief commercial officer for the company that makes the device, said parents already use video and audio monitors to check on their sleeping baby. The MonBaby is just a different kind of monitoring, particularly for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): the unexplained phenomenon of newborn babies dying while sleeping.
"If something does happen, those traditional monitors might not show much. The cause of SIDS isn't known, but it's not a noisy thing," he said.
Klaynberg told me they haven't received the same helicopter-parenting criticisms as some of their peers in the child-rearing tech world. But he may have had the best response for anybody who is judgemental of the monitoring gadgets:
"It's still a choice. If people don't want to get that specific with the care of their baby and watching them at night, they don't have to."