Step inside a wired nursery: Lots of tech — and not much evidence it’s helpful

A SmartOne infant sleep monitor is shown on a doll at the Sensible Baby booth during the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 8, 2014. The wearable device, fits into a chest pocket, and sends information and active alerts on temperature, baby orientation and breathing to a parent's mobile device. Photo by Steve Marcus/Reuters

Welcome to the modern nursery, where every wiggle, snore, and diaper change is tracked — and the data is synced to your smartphone.

A flurry of high-tech baby products has hit the market in recent months. Major retailers are getting in on the action, too: Target launched a "connected nursery" section in stores last fall. But experts say there hasn't been thorough research on many of those products and warn that they can sometimes do more harm than good.

"It takes time to do a careful study that compares the validity and reliability of these devices," said Dr. Judith Owens, the director of the pediatric sleep center at Boston Children's Hospital. "In the meantime, the horse is out of the barn."

If a baby's healthy, she said, the devices can backfire as parents poring over the data may seek unnecessary medical attention. "Parents see these numbers and they get so focused on it, they create a problem when there isn't one," Owens said.

Here's a look at the high-tech gear that's hitting the nursery market.

Smart changing pads

Babies seem to grow in the blink of an eye; smart changing pads aim to document that process, one ounce at a time. One such product, Grow, uses a wireless smart scale built into the changing pad. The manufacturer, baby tech company Hatch, encourages breastfeeding moms to weigh their babies before and after each feeding to double check just how much milk the little one has consumed.

The data is sent — where else? — to your smartphone, where an app charts a baby's growth week by week. It also tracks every diaper change to make sure digestion is moving as it should, and allows parents to compare their baby's development to global averages. The new model, which ships in May, sells for $129.

Fitbit, but for babies

For parents who want to keep an eye on their baby's every snooze, a company called Mimo offers cotton kimonos or bodysuits — a trendier name for a onesie — armed with activity trackers. The outfits can keep tabs on a baby's temperature, body position, and wriggling during sleep, and provide parents a readout every morning. The tracker itself sticks onto compatible clothes and costs $199, with the accompanying onesies running $29 a pair.

Mimo also offers a baby activity tracker that's threaded into $179 crib sheets.

"These [types of] devices can tell parents very early on the quality of the baby's sleep," said Tam Vu, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado, Denver, who has worked on sleep sensor technology. Vu said the monitors can signal to parents that they might need to change a baby's sleeping environment to encourage a more restful night.

Fitbit, but for parents

Data collection isn't just about babies. There's a Fitbit-style tracker for busy parents, too. The Project Nursery Parent + Baby SmartBand, priced at $149, is a wearable that's designed to keep a running record of every feeding, diaper change, and nap time. The wearer can simply hit the bottle logo on the tracker, for example, and type in how much milk a baby drank. The band will record that information with a time stamp and send it right to a smartphone app. It can ping parents, too, when it's time for a scheduled nap or feeding.

A crib that knows how to rock your baby back to sleep

And for bleary-eyed parents with some extra pennies in their piggy banks, there's the $1,160 self-rocking sleeper SNOO. The "smart sleeper" starts by swaddling a baby in a wrap that then gets firmly clipped to the sides of the bed. It then gently rocks the infant. SNOO's makers claim it's smart enough to detect patterns in your baby's sleep and predict the tempo that will soothe them best — so when they're particularly agitated, the bed might rock more quickly than when they're just a bit fussy.

But is it a sound idea to rely on a crib to decipher your baby's cries? Owens isn't so sure.

"Those kinds of devices really remove parents from being able to interpret and make appropriate decisions," she said.

This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on March 3, 2017. Find the original story here.

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