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The Owlet & Other High Tech Baby Monitors

Posted by Karen Faulkner on
The Owlet & Other High Tech Baby Monitors

Worry About Baby and Breathing

Parents spend hours just watching their babies breathe whilst sleeping. They can't resist one last look before going to bed just to make sure they are OK. Worry and responsibility are two issues emerging as soon as the baby has been born. And it naturally goes with the territory of being a new parent. But what if you could take away some of the worry by using a high tech baby monitor? I can totally understand the temptation to buy and use one.

All babies in special care and neonatal units have their vital signs monitored. The nurses and paediatricians use high-tech state of the art technology showing the nursing and medical staff data on the heart rate, oxygen saturation levels, respiration rate and blood pressure of the baby.

These baby monitors I'm writing about are very similar and tell you what exactly is going on inside their body, giving parents the reassurance all is OK.

The makers of consumer infant physiologic monitors have avoided Food and Drug Administration (FDA) medical device regulation by stopping just short of claims to prevent SIDS. Nothing can prevent SIDS. We can reduce the risk by following the guidelines but we cannot prevent it.

The Owlet Sock 2

These high-tech baby monitors are now available in Australia, giving parents more than an extra set of eyes in exchange for peace of mind. They are able to track babies in ways we can’t see or hear. The Owlet is a smart sock monitoring a baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels whilst they sleep – through a sock attached to their foot. It uses high tech pulse oximetry and gives a reading via an app on a parents smartphone using Bluetooth technology. If any of the baby's vitals falls out of the safe zone the parent will be alerted via the App with an alarm and flashing warning lights.

It is available in three sizes and can be used up to 18 months of age and the bluetooth capability is within 33 metres. The Owlet Smart Sock 2 is $399.99, whilst the Connected Care app subscription costs $10 a month, or $75 a year.

Oricom Baby Sense7 Breathing Monitor

Another popular heart rate monitor is the breathing monitor by Oricom, Babysense7.

The clever high tech baby sleep monitoring system features a control unit placed outside of the baby's cot connecting to two special sensors placed under their mattress. The breathing monitor is more than just a movement sensor. It works as a whole to continually monitor the breathing movements of your sleeping baby. If your baby's breathing rate drops below 10 per minute or they haven't taken a breath for more than 20 seconds you will be alerted by an alarm sound and flashing lights. The two sensor pads cover the whole mattress so it's OK for your baby to move around their cot. It's battery-powered and these generally last 6 months plus.

Reassuring Design

Suitable for healthy infants from birth to one year of age, the Babysense7 has been helping parents around the world get the shut-eye they need for over two decades.

And with thanks to its clever technology, Babysense7 is the only monitor on the market included as a Medical Device on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. And as you would expect from a trusted brand, the Oricom Babysense7 includes a three-year warranty.

Miku's Sensor Fusion Technology

Miku's baby monitor was designed by military engineers, so you know its SensorFusion technology, tracking your baby's vital signs while she sleeps must be top-notch. It tracks your baby's breathing, heart rate, movement, and overall sleep hygiene in real-time without any wearable monitors. It also alerts parents of the baby's room's temperature and humidity to provide all-around peace of mind. And the monitor's app helps you track it's data and makes health recommendations like check-up reminders and alerts you when your baby's sleep patterns change for $399

And a new one to join the pack is

Wellue BabyO2™ Baby Oxygen Monitor

This is very similar to the Owlet monitor, measuring oxygen saturation levels. It retails at $185 AUD and straps around the foot and the thigh. Design wise I prefer the simplicity of the Owlet. The Wellue is slightly more invasive being it attaches to two body parts (foot and thigh).

It really depends on how much you want to know about your baby and their breathing and whether the monitor would reduce your anxiety and give you peace of mind or if it would increase it.

Despite the lack of publicly available evidence supporting their safety, accuracy, effectiveness, or role in the care of well infants, sales of these monitors are brisk and the market is expanding. For example, the makers of the Owlet monitor, a “smart sock” that claims to alert parents if their baby stops breathing, recently reported sales of 40,000 units at $250 each.


- As of July 31, 2019, support for the Mimo system, products, and service has ended.

Snuza Pico - Diaper Clip $249.99

The Snuza Pica Monitor attaches to your baby nappy or diaper and collects data on your child's breathing motion, skin temperature and sleep patterns while they sleep. Getting real-time insights and alerts straight to your phone with the Snuza Connect app. And setting your preferences in the app. 

If your baby's breathing motion stops, the Pico will gently vibrate to rouse your baby after 15 seconds. If this does not work and breathing motion does not start after a further 5 seconds, the Pico will alarm so that you can act and respond quickly. And it's important to know that young babies can have mini apnoea episodes.

It is common for there to be some instability in an infant’s breathing. This can be a normal part of an infant’s development. Even healthy infants may have a brief central apnea. This pause may be an isolated event. It also may occur after the child sighs or moves. The duration of these normal events is very short. They rarely last longer than 20 seconds and can occur from newborn to 12 months of age.

Sproutling $299

As new fathers, Chris Bruce and Mathew Spolin each had that moment of anxiety common to many parents: standing at the door of the nursery, worrying if the baby was breathing and wondering whether to go inside and check, just in case. This feeling helped inspire the founding of their San Francisco startup, Sproutling. It was in development for two years and Sproutling’s US $299 baby wearable was unveiled in 2016. (Spolin left the company in April 2018). A band worn on the ankle and encapsulated in medical-grade silicone, the wearable uses an optical heart-rate sensor to monitor the baby’s pulse, shining a light onto the skin and measuring the wavelength of returning light. A contactless sensor gauges the baby’s temperature. An accelerometer tracks the baby’s position and motion and can alert parents if the baby rolls over.

Unlike with many fitness wearables, the actual data—how many decibels of noise, the baby’s temperature, and so on—are not displayed or charted for parents (although a ring of light on the base station does pulse at the rate of the baby’s heartbeat, as does an animated heart on the smartphone app).

Instead, Sproutling’s algorithms convert the data into alerts for the parents only as needed, sending a push notification on a smartphone, for example, if the baby’s temperature is raised. “It’s not designed to give you graphs and numbers,” Spolin says. “It’s really to let you know when things are okay or when you should check on your child.”

Taking into account factors such as how much the baby slept earlier in the day, as well as the baby’s age and historical temperament, Sproutling’s machine learning algorithms can also predict how long the baby should sleep and when the baby might wake up. How accurate its predictions are is yet to be proved; Sproutling was launched in 2016. “The more and more it’s used, and the more we learn about your child, the better it gets over time,” Bruce says. “We want to help parents get that sixth sense of what’s going on, to quantify patterns that parents can’t do themselves.”

The overarching objective is to reduce parental anxiety. “I’m building the stuff I wanted as a parent,” says Bruce, whose children are now 4 and 6.

Mon Baby retails at $109.99

MonBaby’s unique snap attachment traps your baby’s clothing in between the button and the snap ring ensuring a strong and secure fastening. A baby does not have the strength or dexterity to remove the button on their own without the help of an adult. The button’s inner enclosure is 1.3 inches in diameter which is larger than the 1.25 inches required to pass a choking tube test in the United States, Europe and Mexico.

TRACKS BREATHING MOVEMENT: Prolonged pause in breathing movement will be detected by the MonBaby smart sensor and an alarm will be sent to your smartphone.

TRACKS SLEEPING POSITION: Know immediately if baby rolls onto tummy during sleep.

TRACKS BODY TEMPERATURE: Get alerted If baby's temperature or sleep environment temperature goes outside of preset zones.

ONLY WEARABLE MOVEMENT MONITOR WITH  REAL-TIME DATA TRACKING: Data tracked multiple times per second so you can relax and get some sleep.

PATENTED SNAP-ON FORM FACTOR: Only snap-on baby monitor available in market. Securely snaps on so it is safe from baby's picking hands. 

Baby Vida $150

This monitor has had a demise because of its alarming accuracy in data.

Are High-Tech Monitors a Good Thing?

It is incredibly tempting to shell out some money to give yourself peace of mind. However, are you really buying peace of mind or are you buying extra anxiety? I know personally of situations in UK hospitals when alarms went off on breathing monitors and created a false negative. I also know of alarms that failed to go off with breathing monitors and babies died from SIDS. The issue with the false negative is it will send you rushing to the emergency room assuming something is seriously wrong with your baby. And the false positive? By then it's probably too late. It also needs a parent who has up-to-date paediatric CPR training who can keep calm in an emergency.

The Downside

Recently I had a parent who had an Owlet sock monitor and the oxygen saturation was 95% and they were panicking. A level of 95% in a well baby who is in a deep sleep isn't a concern. However you really need a parent with medical training to interpret what is a concern and what isn't. And therein lies the crux of the issue.

And with the sensor breathing monitors you need a knowledge of paediatric CPR. Unless you know how to respond to the alarm and can calmly resuscitate a baby there is really no point in spending the money on them.

Dr. Bonafide decided to study these monitors after first coming upon them five years ago, when an infant was admitted to his hospital after a monitor the parents were using went off and doctors couldn’t find any obvious issues (it turns out, the child was fine).

The American Academy of Pediatrics already cautions against such monitors, claiming they are not shown to have any role in preventing SIDS or related issues — and they haven’t been approved by the Food & Drug Administration, either.

Parents who rely on popular commercial baby heart rate and oxygen monitors to warn against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) might want to reconsider, according to a study out of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute released on Thursday.

The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association,tested the two monitors on the market that pair with smartphones: the Owlet Smart Sock 2 ($299.99) and the Baby Vida (seemingly off the market now). According to researcher and pediatrician Dr. Christopher P. Bonafide, who used the monitors on 30 slightly ill babies under the age of 6 months at the hospital, results were “surprising."

“My biggest surprise is how differently the two monitors performed,” he told PEOPLE. Both use pulse oximetry technology — designed to monitor the levels of oxygen in one’s blood — and while the Owlet overall performed “very well,” it had inconsistencies, sometimes displaying a number that was not consistent with low oxygen levels, and on some occasions, indicating the baby was fine when pulse oximetry numbers said otherwise, based on a control, hospital-grade monitor.

Continuously monitoring healthy infants can lead to over diagnosis, according to an editorial co-authored by Dr. Bonafide (JAMA in 2017). Studies have shown healthy infants can experience oxygen levels occasionally dipping below 80 percent and are not a cause for alarm, the authors said.

To ensure your baby is safe, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents sleep in the same room as their infants for at least the first six months or, ideally, the first year of the baby’s life. In addition, babies should be placed to sleep on their backs in a crib with a firm sleeping surface with nothing other than a tightfitting, thin sheet, to help prevent sleep-related death.

While the rate of sudden, unexpected infant deaths has declined since the emergence of public health campaigns encouraging safe sleep habits, there are still approximately 3,500 babies in the United States who die suddenly and unexpectedly each year from accidental suffocation, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or unknown causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Australia the SIDS stats are currently 6 per 100,00 live births. Between 2007 and 2017 the rate declined from 28 per 100,000 to 6 in 2017, following a peak in 2009 of 32 per 100,000. This is directly linked to the SIDS education program currently taught to all new parents.

The academy’s policy statement on safe sleep says there is no data indicating SIDS can be prevented by using at-home monitors tracking heart rate and blood oxygen levels.

Even so, these monitor companies promise to ease parents’ minds are pro

The global baby monitor market size is projected to reach $1.63 billion by 2025, according to a 2017 report from Hexa Research, a market research and consulting firm. The North American region accounted for almost half of global sales in 2016, the report said.

In April 2020 widespread spiral of frustration ensued after the Owlet Smart Sock stopped communicating with the Owlet phone app.

Owlet said the disruption, stemmed from a bug in a new release of its app causing its servers to crash. When the servers went down, parents were no longer able to see their child’s heart rate or oxygen levels on the company’s app.

Within 3 days Owlet said it had fixed the problem, but by then hundreds of parents had shared their frustrations on social media. Nearly 900 comments flooded the company’s Facebook page.

“Hi, we have loved your product for about 5 months. However the last month has been extremely tough,” one father wrote, adding the product has triggered alarms multiple times “for no reason” and has caused “more anxiety than relief.”

Owlets profits

In 2017, Owlet earned $25 million in revenue, according to the business magazine Inc. 

Despite any technical difficulties, a working Owlet still provides reassurance to Ms. Bartlett.

She plans to keep using the Smart Sock on her 2-month-old son, even though she said the monitor has trouble connecting to her phone and once sounded a false alarm in the middle of the night, indicating the sock was positioned incorrectly.

“For me, I just like the peace of mind of being able to check on my phone and see, yeah, he’s O.K.,” she said. “I just know that it’s not going to work as much as it should for the price.”

Mr. Young, the father of the 7-month-old, agreed.

“I would buy it again, I think,” he said. “But I don’t know that I would put as much trust into it as I have.”

In the end, he added, “nothing can replace good parenting, you’ve just got to find some things to help you.”

As a new parent it really is your choice whether you invest in this technology or not and hopefully this article has helped you look at the pro's and cons.

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