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"Smartphone-integrated baby monitors may do more harm than good."

In our increasingly technological world, more and more of us choose to monitor our heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep patterns. We may even be more vigilant of our babies’ well-being, as smartphone-integrated physiological baby monitors take over the market and promise to offer parents some much-needed peace of mind. But could it be that baby monitors actually do more harm than good? A new report investigates.

A new article, published in the journal JAMA, investigates the pros and cons of using a smartphone-integrated physiological baby monitor.

In the article, pediatrician and safety expert Dr. Christopher P. Bonafide, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and his colleagues comment on the health benefits of the new class of infant physiological monitors that have become widely available over the past two years.

These monitors come in the form of apps that are connected to sensors built into the babies’ clothes and diapers, which can measure the baby’s heart rate, respiration, and blood oxygen saturation.

The apps can generate alarms for tachycardia, sleep apnea (a condition in which the infant’s breathing stops during sleep), a slow heart rate (also known as bradycardia), and oxygen desaturation, which is a reduction of oxygen levels in the blood below 80 percent.

As Dr. Bonafide and colleagues point out, these apps have been marketed “aggressively” at parents of newly born infants, leading to an unprecedented expansion of the consumer-use baby monitor market.
Evaluating the benefits of baby monitors

So what are the real benefits of these medical gadgets? Dr. Bonafide – together with CHOP neonatologist Dr. Elizabeth E. Foglia and David T. Jamison, executive director of Health Devices at ECRI Institute, a nonprofit that assesses medical devices – evaluated five baby monitor models across three parameters: their advertised role, medical indications, and existing state regulations.

The five models are Baby Vida, MonBaby, Owlet, Snuza Pico, and Sproutling, with prices ranging from $150 to $300.

These consumer baby monitors, the authors note, do not straightforwardly say that their products treat or even diagnose disease. However, they promise to alert parents when something is wrong with their child’s cardiorespiratory health.

Regarding something as serious as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), Owlet manufacturers, for instance, insist that their product can notify parents if something goes wrong, despite acknowledging that SIDS is an “unknown issue” which they “cannot yet claim to help prevent.”

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