The market is rising for new wearable devices that measure babies’ vital signs as anxious parents see this product as a constant provider of information regarding the kid’s safety. However, experts say that this kind of devices are not necessary in most cases and can even cause harm as false-alarms and over-diagnoses are very possible.

These devices function associated with a smartphone, as they are consisted in little sensors to be put in the baby’s socks, onesies, leg bands and diaper clips. These sensors send consistent information to the parents’ phone, and they can keep tabs concerning oxygen levels and pulse rate, as they could detect apnea, tachycardia, bradycardia, and desaturation. The sensor even can alert parents of a possible distress at any given moment.

Healthy babies don’t need wearable vital signs monitors. Image credit:
Healthy babies don’t need wearable vital signs monitors. Image credit:

The companies that are offering these products to the public are making a body of promises that have not been proved yet. For example, most of them assure the parents they help avoid the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, the companies do not lie on any basis to ensure that situation.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not conducted the respective testing nor has labeled these products as “medical devices,” and according to Dr. Christopher Bonafide, a pediatrics researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, there is not enough evidence to submit them as safe or effective.

Experts recommend avoiding these wearable devices

In an opinion text published in the journal JAMA, several doctors and specialists are advising parents to prevent using these new tools that promise a full data recollection of the baby’s health, at least until the FDA makes all the testing.

“I’ve been there myself, peeking in the door of my son’s room late at night, making sure I could hear him breathing. There is so much anxiety during those first few weeks with a new baby at home, and anything that seems like it might help reduce that anxiety seems incredibly appealingThe problem is that a vital sign monitor is not the solution,”  Bonafide, co-author of the opinion piece, wrote via email.

According to recent reports, the rise of these wearable devices market has been significant in the last two years. One of the companies that sell these products, the “Owlet Baby Care,” that offers “smart socks,” reported sales of over 40,000 units, every one of them costing $250.

Other monitors that will debut soon in the United States are “Baby Vida,” “MonBaby,” “Owlet,” “Snuza Pico” and “Sproutling.”

MonBaby monitor. Image credit: What Toys for Kids
MonBaby monitor. Image credit: What Toys for Kids

The marketing of the devices and why doctors don’t recommend them

Often, the marketing strategies of the companies that offer these devices do not promise the prevention of diseases or false treatments. However, they do offer the constant monitoring that assures peace for the parents, in the form of warnings that alert about a possible situation with the baby’s health.

As it was said before, one of the major marketing promises from these companies has to do with the promise of avoiding the SIDS, a syndrome that all parents fear, because both the smartphone app and the sensor itself still function when the baby sleeps.

Even when the SIDS rates have lowered in the last year, still represents the leading cause of death among infants across the country, killing about 3,500 newborns annually, according to reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Doctors mainly recommend that babies should sleep on their backs as parents should avoid pillows and toys that can produce a suffocation episode and a serious threat to the child’s life. The AAP is recommending parents not to use these wearable sensors, as any U.S. official agency has not tested them yet.

Doctors mainly recommend that babies should sleep on their backs. Image credit: National Insitute of Child Health and Human Development / Slate
Doctors mainly recommend that babies should sleep on their backs. Image credit: National Insitute of Child Health and Human Development / Slate

Experts advise that parents’ should sleep in the same room with their babies, although they should not sleep in the same bed to avoid any sleep-related threats. The AAP recommends that a firm surface within a crib or bassinet, without the presence of soft bedding, is the safest place for an unborn to get their sleep.

Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a co-author of the AAP guidelines and pediatrics researcher at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, New Jersey, has said that in the future there are high chances of developing a technology that can efficiently reduce the risk of SIDS. However, he states, “we are not there yet.”

It is very common for parents to buy any product that can keep safe their newborn babies, and automatically assume that it is not harmful to them.  Helen Ball, director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab at Durham University in the UK, warns about this situation as she stated that the vigilant care that parents can provide to the child is vital.

“We have lost sight of what babies need in order to keep them safe, and many parents and grandparents today do not realize that is it the presence of a responsive and vigilant caregiver that keeps a baby safe, but believe the job can be outsourced to a smartphone/video-monitor/technomattress etc,” Ball, who wasn’t involved in the paper, said by email.

Ball also stated that one of the ways in which these devices could hurt babies is the fact that the extreme use of the sensors could translate into a lack of direct attention that the parents must provide to the child.

Source: JAMA