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Baby monitors and sensors

4-minute read

Baby monitors can put your mind at rest by alerting you if your baby needs you. Some are used to monitor breathing or the heart in babies who have medical issues. Most healthy babies don't need to be monitored, but you can talk to your doctor or child and family health nurse about whether a monitor is right for you and your baby.

Don't ever rely on a monitor alone - there is no substitute for you watching your baby in person. Remember, the only time it is safe to leave your baby with a monitor is when are in their safe sleeping space. Never leave your baby alone in the house.

Why use a baby monitor?

A baby monitor can help you keep an eye on 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 can't 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 (for example if they were found not breathing, blue, white or floppy)
  • regularly has prolonged 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 or needs oxygen all the time

Some manufacturers claim that using a baby monitor will reduce the risk of Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, there is no scientific evidence that using any type of monitor will prevent a sudden unexpected infant death.

Types of baby monitors

Audio monitor

Basically like a walkie-talkie, this monitor lets you hear your baby's noises when you are not in the room. Remember, it is safest to sleep with the baby in your room for the first 6 to 12 months.

Video monitor

This sends a video from a camera in your baby's room. You view the video on a device such as a tablet. Sometimes the monitor uses your home Wi-Fi to broadcast the video feed to an app on your smartphone or tablet.

App monitor

There are several different apps that let you to turn 2 phones or tablets into a monitor. These tend to not be as sensitive or as high quality as other baby monitors.

Movement monitor

This monitor is placed underneath your baby's bedding. It sends an alarm if your baby doesn't move for a set time. There are no approved standards in Australia for movement monitors sold commercially.

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 skin falls below a set level. They can sometimes send false alarms.

Monitors for hearing impaired parents

These monitors use lights or vibrations to tell hearing impaired parents 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. You as the baby's carer still need to be able to respond to the alarm and know what to do. It's important to talk to your doctor about how to respond to a monitor's alarm, and make sure everyone who looks after the baby also knows what to do.

Monitors aren't 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 go down.

There have been some problems in Australia with babies getting caught up in the electrical leads attached to monitors.

Buying a baby monitor

Baby monitors range from $50 to $400.

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, 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; and different camera mount types.

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

Last reviewed: February 2019

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