Bringing home a new baby is a totally overwhelming experience. The responsibility of caring exclusively for a new life is a huge task for any parent. Keeping a watchful and vigilant eye on your new baby 24 hours a day, especially in its earliest days, has led to the invention of many types of at-home baby monitors. Specifically, the baby monitor to prevent SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, has gained popularity to prevent the scary and confusing syndrome.
"SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, refers to the sudden death of an infant below 1 year of age. It is very rare, yet causes anxiety in parents for obvious reasons," says Gina Robinson, MD, pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3,500 babies each year die from SIDS, the most likely cause being accidental suffocation.
With SIDS baby monitors are flooding the market, should you invest in one? Using a baby monitor to prevent SIDS is a hotly debated topic. We spoke with two pediatricians to learn about the benefits and risks of using a SIDS monitor, as well as investigated the latest studies and statistics, to find out if they are worth trying.
What is a SIDS baby monitor?
"A SIDS monitor, or home apnea monitor, is a device meant to be used on sleeping infants to decrease the risk of SIDS," says Dr. Robinson. "The monitors track the breathing and heart rate of sleeping infants. If there is an apnea, or pause in breathing, or the heart rate drops below a certain level, the monitor will sound an alarm."
There are various types of monitors—some use a pad that fits under the mattress, and some have a type of sensor that fits on the body (like the waist or foot, including a SIDS monitor sock).
"If parents choose to use a monitor, they should read the instructions to ensure proper placement of the sensors and wires," says Dr. Robinson.
What are the benefits of using a SIDS monitor?
"There are some infants (i.e. infants who are premature, discharged on oxygen) who definitely benefit from having their breathing monitored in this fashion," says Dr. Robinson. "There are no real benefits for the average healthy infant."
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends a home apnea monitor if your baby needs home oxygen or has serious breathing problems.
What are the negatives of using a SIDS monitor?
Ultimately, the negatives may outweigh the benefits of a SIDS prevention monitor.
"Research studies have not shown a decrease in incidence of SIDS with the use of a home monitor," says Melissa Manrique, MD, pediatric hospitalist, Lurie Children's at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. "In addition, monitors do not guarantee infant safety. There have been reports of infants that have died while being monitored."
And it may also increase anxiety in parents.
"The monitors frequently sound false alarms and can actually increase anxiety in a lot of parents," says Dr. Robinson. "There are even some studies that found an increased incidence of depression in parents who use them."
Plus, they also increase stress and may impact sleep of parents.
"Monitors have been shown to increase stress in families that use monitors that may be related to false alarms," says Dr. Manrique. There is also an increase in sleep disruption for families with monitor use, leading to increased fatigue.
What does the science say?
SIDS baby monitor reviews online are vast. However, there have been studies done on monitors to test for accuracy.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association tested and compared how well two popular baby monitors (the Owlet Smart Sock 2 and the Baby Vida) on accuracy with heart rate and oxygen blood levels (called hypoxemia) with hospital-grade monitors. And the results weren't great.
It found that the Owlet Smart Sock 2 detected hypoxemia but performed inconsistently. And the Baby Vida never detected hypoxemia, and also displayed falsely low pulse rates.
"There is no evidence that these monitors are useful in the reduction of SIDS in healthy infants," says Dr. Robinson. "The infants who are at risk due to prematurity, oxygen requirements, or other serious breathing issues should follow the recommendation of their children's doctors. There are some children who will be discharged from the hospital on monitors, again on the recommendations of their children's physicians."
There are no SIDS baby monitors that are FDA approved or regulated.
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) also does not recommend the routine use of SIDS monitors. However, they do have safe sleeping guidelines that can help parents prevent SIDS. A 2019 investigative piece on SIDS monitors published in The Wall Street Journal reported that the number of SIDS cases has sharply declined since the 1990s thanks to a safe sleeping campaign created by the AAP in 1994 called Back To Sleep.
Practicing safe sleeping techniques and home safety are critical for reducing incidence of SIDS.
"Safe sleep strategies have been shown to decrease incidence of SIDS and should be first choice in decreasing risk of SIDS in an infant," says Dr. Manrique.
According to Dr. Manrique, these include:
While SIDS monitors are marketed to parents as an effective tool to prevent SIDS, it is critical parents know the facts when it comes to utilizing these tools.
"Many products are marketed as necessary or helpful to new parents. Be careful, do your research, and ask your physician for recommendations about new products," says Dr. Robinson.