Like any person scared shitless about the prospect of keeping a fragile new human alive, as soon as I found out I was pregnant I started googling the important questions. Among them: “What is the best baby monitor?”
And now that my spawn has survived for 1.5 years, I am confident when I say the right baby monitor is this one: No baby monitor at all. Not a video one, not an audio one, not a baby LoJack that texts you when your baby sneezes.
It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with checking in on your child. It’s more that the whole idea of baby tracking has gotten out of hand. Like the concept for a new “smart crib“, being designed by Nest, that will alert you not only when your baby cries, but when she moves, coughs and poops. My conclusion about all these “tools” is that they will probably add to the anxiety of parents who are already very busy worrying about other things.
I know this because I used to be hardwired into my child’s every grunt and groan. After cruising many baby forums, my husband and I decided on a Dropcam Pro as the nursery’s closed-circuit TV system. It’s pricey for a baby monitor, running over $US200 ($267). Dropcam was bought by Nest right after we installed it, so we could use Nest’s interface to watch our baby. Imagining monitoring your child’s vital signs and the temperature of your home in the same app — the future is here!
After putting our daughter to sleep in a bassinet next to our bed for the first few months — which is recommended to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) — we moved her into her own room and fired up the baby cam. This was modern parenting at its best. I could glance at an iPad and see glorious live video of my baby snoozing while looking like an extra from Paranormal Activity.
But very quickly, that night-vision image of my child wrapped up like a burrito started to consume me. I got good — too good — at zooming in really closely to her chest to get the visual evidence I needed to confirm that my baby was breathing. I did this every evening. The first hour: Wait, is she crying? The second hour: Wait, why isn’t she crying?
Soon, it wasn’t just at bedtime that I found myself riveted to her feed. I would check the app during naps, just to make sure of… what, exactly? Still there? Still burrito-like? Long after the night feedings had ended, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, panicked to get my fix. ONE MORE LOOK JUST ONE MORE LOOK. My daughter was sleeping just fine. Now I was the one with the sleep problems.
There were a lot of other annoying things that started to bug me about using baby monitors, like the fact that people might use internet-connected ones to spy on kids. But it soon became clear that the biggest problem with a connected baby-watching system is the very real potential for the system itself to fail.
Last spring, Nest went offline, something that’s happened a few times over the past year. This particular outage happened around bedtime on the US East Coast and lasted about four hours. Parents freaked out, lobbing angry tweets at Nest about how they couldn’t hear their crying children.
Just joining in on the #nest outage fury. All you parents rethinking @nest as baby monitor, I hear you tho I may not hear my crying baby
— Jessica Marmor Shaw (@jessmarmor) September 8, 2015
If that had happened during one of my iPhone vigils, when I was too terrified to walk in my kid’s bedroom for fear of waking her up, I might have lost my mind. But it also seemed to be one uncontrollable glitch in a much larger array of possible issues, like dead batteries, a camera that needs to be rebooted or our own faulty Wi-Fi signal. My router goes down all the time; it’s part of life. Why would I expect flawless service from the camera plugged in next to it?
It turns out that I didn’t even notice the Nest outage. By then I had weaned myself off the stream. A few weeks later, we took our camera down, and I haven’t watched my child sleep since. It sounds radical, I know. But I put her in bed, I close the door and I go back and get her in the morning. Somehow, my child makes it through every night without me tuning in.
If you’ve taken all the other necessary precautions — getting a safe crib, a firm mattress and hardly anything else — your baby does not need her nocturnal movement Periscoped or podcasted. If she needs you, she’ll cry, and unless you live in a house featured on Cribs, you’ll hear her. In the meantime, she is eventually going to go to sleep. And instead of intercepting a stream of data about whether she is or not, you should go to sleep, too.