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Pediatricians Reject New Smartphone Baby Monitors

February 16, 2017        

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

High-tech Devices Create False Alarms, Lax Parenting

With the rise of the now-ubiquitous smartphones, and a growing army of app-paired devices wirelessly linked to smartphones (including all sorts of personal health monitors), are a new class of smartphone baby monitors a good idea?

No, according to Dr. Christopher Bonafide of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

In an editorial published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Bonafide warned that repeated false alarms from the monitors jangle parents’ nerves and lead to unnecessary rushes to emergency rooms with unnecessary and expensive tests—including X-rays and blood tests—performed on babies.

False alarms can occur if babies set off the monitor by kicking or rolling, or experience a harmless change in their vitals that the device reads as life-threatening, Bonafide said.

For example, he said, research has shown that babies occasionally experience sudden declines in their blood oxygen levels that would set off a monitor.  “They’re just normal fluctuations,” Bonafide said, adding that the alarm would have parents think otherwise.

The pricey devices consist of electronic sensors embedded in baby “smart” socks, onesies, and even clothing buttons.  When worn by babies, they continually check vital signs like breathing, pulse rate and oxygen levels and alert parents of any abnormalities via smartphone app.

But because they are not directly marketed as preventing medical crises, they are technically not medical devices—and hence not subject to FDA oversight and approval. 

As such, besides lacking FDA safety and efficacy approval, there’s no evidence that the devices actually prevent any potentially serious problems in normal infants, according to Bonafide.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends against using the high-tech baby monitors in healthy infants, primarily out of concern that there’s no evidence they work.

Conversely, the AAP is also concerned that parents “will become complacent” upon using smartphone baby monitors, said Rachel Moon, M.D., who chairs the AAP’s Task Force on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

“If they have a monitor,” she said, “They might feel they can put their baby on its belly to sleep, or sleep with their baby”—practices both considered unsafe by the AAP.

Bottom line?  Speak to the baby expert you trust most (besides your own mother): your child’s pediatrician.

And do what time and tradition have proven to best work in knowing if something’s really wrong: listen to that parent’s heart of your own—it’s smarter than any smartphone will ever be.