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Baby monitors and sensors

5-minute read

Key facts

  • A baby monitor can help you listen or look out for your baby from a distance, or to track their heart rate or breathing.
  • Never rely only on a monitor — it's best to stay close and check in on your baby regularly in person.
  • Types of baby monitors include audio (sound) and visual (image) trackers, baby monitor apps, movement trackers and heart, breathing and oxygen trackers.
  • A baby monitor is only an alarm and it will not save your baby's life on its own — if you are the baby's carer, you still need to be able to respond to the alarm and know what to do.

Why use a baby monitor?

A baby monitor can help you listen or look out for your baby from a distance. For example, you might choose to use a baby monitor so you can hear your baby cry if you are downstairs or in another room where you cannot easily hear them.

If your baby was born prematurely or has breathing problems, your doctor might recommend a breathing or heart monitor. They might also suggest a monitor if your baby:

  • has needed to be resuscitated (revived) — for example, if they were found not breathing, blue, white or floppy
  • has regular and long episodes of pauses in their breathing, or a slow heart rate
  • has a breathing disorder that affects them while they sleep
  • has a rare medical condition
  • has a health condition where they need extra oxygen

Baby monitors do not prevent sudden infant death, they can only raise an alarm to try to get your attention. Some manufacturers of home monitors make false claims that they prevent sudden death. There is no evidence that this is true.

What are the types of baby monitors?

Audio monitor

This type of monitor works like a 'walkie-talkie', so you can hear noises your baby makes, even when you are not in the room. Remember, it is safest for your baby to sleep in their own cot or bed in your room for the first 6 to 12 months.

Video monitor

This sends a video image from a camera in your baby's room. You watch the video on a device such as a phone or tablet, sometimes using your home Wi-Fi (wireless network).

App monitor

There are several apps that let you turn 2 phones or tablets into a monitor, functioning as either an audio or video monitor, depending on the app. These are often not as sensitive or as high quality as specially designed baby monitors.

Movement monitor

This monitor is placed underneath your baby's cot sheet. It sends an alarm if your baby does not move for a set time. There are no approved standards in Australia for movement monitors sold to the public.

Heart and breathing monitor

These monitors use electrode dots attached to the baby's chest to monitor chest movement and the electrical activity of the heart. An alarm goes off if the heart rate falls below a set level, or if there is a long pause in the baby's breathing. Sometimes, these monitors come in the form of a wearable device. Some of them are linked to a computer, which assesses how serious the situation is.

Oxygen measurement monitors and oximeters

These are used in hospitals, but not often at home. They send an alarm when the oxygen recorded in the baby's skin falls below a set level. They can sometimes send false alarms.

Monitors for hearing impaired carers

These monitors use lights or vibrations to tell hearing impaired carers that their baby is awake and needs their attention.

How reliable are baby monitors?

A baby monitor is only an alarm. It will not save your baby's life on its own. As the baby's carer, you need to be able to respond to the alarm and know what to do. For example, you might want to make sure your CPR skills are up to date. It is also good to make sure everyone who looks after the baby knows what to do in an emergency situation.

It is important to talk to your doctor before buying a monitor to learn how to respond to a monitor's alarm.

Monitors are not always accurate and the alarms can go off when nothing is wrong. This can be very stressful for parents. They can also stop working if the power, battery or Wi-Fi fail.

There have been some cases in Australia with babies getting caught up in the electrical leads attached to monitors. Be sure to always use the monitor according to the instructions on the package.

Buying a baby monitor

Baby monitors range from $50 to $800.

Look for monitors that will transmit small sounds, even when you are far away. Check the camera has a wide enough angle to view the baby at all times, and has different channels so you can avoid radio interference.

Other features you might look for are being able to use different cameras in different rooms, lights as well as sounds to alert you to your baby's crying, battery as well as mains power in case of power failure, and different camera mount types.

Resources and support

Read the Red Nose article on home monitoring.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Sources:

Red Nose (Home monitoring), Red Nose (Baby Monitors Do Not Prevent Sudden Infant Death), Red Nose (Red Nose Reminds Parents and Carers that Baby Monitors are not a Life Saving Device), CHOICE (How to buy the best baby monitor)

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023


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