The lowdown on baby monitors
Posted by Angela Brown on May 24th, 2019
A baby monitor allows you to keep tabs on your baby while you aren’t in the room. The simplest and least expensive are audio only, but most monitors on the market transmit video images as well as sound. Some can also track your baby’s movements, heart rate, oxygen level, body temperature, or position.
Monitors generally have a transmitter, which stays in the room with your baby, and a portable receiver (often called a “parent unit”) for the caregiver. Some monitors work with smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers so caregivers can watch their child from anywhere.
Monitors are particularly useful for infants who sleep in a room apart from parents and wake up at night for feeding, changing, or comforting. They’re great for naps, too; you can be occupied in another part of your home and hear when your child needs attention.
For best results, place audio monitors from 3 to 10 feet of your baby's crib so they'll pick up every sigh, gurgle, and wail. You can carry the receiver around the house or leave it plugged in by your bed.
Video monitors need to be close enough to get a good image of your baby. Trial and error should help you determine the ideal distance. Some monitors use sensors that may go under a mattress or be placed on your baby’s body; read manufacturer instructions thoroughly and follow all safety guidelines. Make sure all cords are at least 3 feet away from the crib (see safety notes below).
Indispensable as they are, monitors aren't without flaws: Concrete walls can block the signals, and cordless phones and wireless systems can interfere with reception. Also, your receiver might be able to pick up audio signals from your neighbors (and theirs from you). Video monitors that don't encrypt their signals can also give other people a peek into your baby's room, so you want one with strong security features (see "What to look for when buying" below). Monitors that use Wi-Fi won’t work anywhere lacking an Internet connection, and those that use 3G/4G phone networks won’t work wherever your device doesn’t get bars.
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What to look for when buying
Security - analog vs. digital: Analog monitors are less expensive, but anyone in range can listen to the signal. Digital models encrypt the audio transmission, which makes it almost impossible for other people to eavesdrop, and some have a “digital lock” to encrypt video images. To minimize interference with other devices, look for a model that uses DECT (digital enhanced cordless technology).
Audio, video, and more: Do you want to watch while your baby sleeps, or just make sure you can hear when he wakes up? Audio-only monitors are less expensive and usually take up less space. Video monitors offer a variety of options, including different screen sizes, cameras that pan and zoom, and even night-vision images. Some of the newest monitors work with your smart devices so you can monitor your baby from work or basically anywhere. There are also ones that track babies’ vital signs, sound an alert if the baby hasn't moved recently, keep track of the temperature in your baby's room, and even make predictions as to when your baby will wake up.
Frequency: The most basic models use 49 megahertz (MHz). The next step up is 900 MHz, which delivers longer range but also might be subject to interference from older cordless phones that use the same frequency. To address this, many baby monitors have shifted to 2.4 gigahertz (GHz). Newer cordless phones have adopted the same frequency, however, and some Wi-Fi systems also use 2.4 GHz, so interference can still pose a problem. The 1.9 GHz band supports DECT and is prone to the least amount of interference while offering the best security.
Size: The smaller the receiver, the more easily you can carry it around the house. Consider whether you want a monitor with a separate parent receiver or one that works with a smart device you already have.
Low-battery indicator: If the batteries run out of juice, you might not hear your little one calling out for you or singing all the words to "I'm a Little Teapot." Get a monitor that lets you know when to change the batteries with an alarm or flashing lights.
Sound-activated light: If you're vacuuming or calming another child, you might miss your baby's whimpers. But a unit that lights up when it detects noise allows you to glance at the monitor and know instantly that something's going on.
Multiple receivers: Some models have 2 receivers. This may be handy if you want to leave one in your room and carry the other around the house or out back. With certain brands, you can buy additional receivers. Monitors that work with smart devices will often transmit to several devices at once if you elect to share your signal with, say, Grandma, or a parent at work.
Multiple transmitters: You can find multi-room systems with multiple transmitters that let you monitor 2 rooms, 3 rooms, or many rooms at once; these systems often come with 2 parent units, and some work with your smart device.
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