For parents of little ones, a baby monitor may be the next best thing to cloning yourself. These handy devices, which in their most basic form consist of a transmitter and receiver, allow parents to keep an ear out for — and in some cases even keep an eye on — their snoozing tykes from as far as 600 feet away. That means that while baby naps, mom and dad can garden, change the oil, do the laundry or tend to the myriad other household chores that are often neglected during baby-awake time. With hundreds of baby monitor options to choose from, selecting the one that’s right for your needs can be overwhelming, particularly if you’re not an electronics whiz. Pronto’s Baby Monitor Buying Guide helps simplify the task by zeroing in on the key factors you may want to consider when making your choice.
Monitor types range from the basic monitor that allows one parent to listen in for baby’s cries, to the most advanced color video monitors and those that sound an alarm when no breathing motion is detected. Parents should consider what they want their monitor to do before comparing options.
How big is your house and how large is your property? How far you’ll venture from junior will determine what range you need. Monitor ranges cover as little as 150 feet or so to as great as 900 feet.
Consider a digital monitor if you think you’re in a neighborhood with high interference or consider models with lower frequency bands to minimize the chances of picking up someone else’s conversations, as well as transmitting your own. If you live in the suburbs or country, however, you may want a higher frequency band for more power and a clearer signal.
If you have multiple children under toddler age, you may need more than one monitor. Some brands provide for multiple-room monitoring, but remember that the more monitors you use, the higher the likelihood of interference problems.
Once you decide on the kind of basic functionality you want, you may want to check out the additional features. Some video monitors allow for recording, web access, and night vision, for example, while some audio monitors can alert you to pets visiting your child in the crib.
A single radio frequency. The radio frequency spectrum has thousands of channels used to transmit data and information.
A form of wireless radio transmission in which the frequency is deliberately varied. By contrast, traditional wireless communications are transmitted on a constant frequency, making them easier to intercept or leaving them more susceptible to interference.
Electromagnetic waves used to carry information, both audio and video. The frequency band generally ranges between 10 MHz and 100 GHz; however, for baby monitors, the band is much narrower, about 40 MHz to 2.4 GHz.
The device that parents use to listen or view what’s being transmitted from their baby’s room.
A privacy feature that encodes a transmission as it’s being sent so that it can be picked up only by its designated receiver.
The part of the baby monitor system that is placed in the baby’s room to pick up noises, video and/or movement and transmit messages to the receiver(s).
When buying a baby monitor, the first question you should ask yourself is how much surveillance you want. While some parents want to keep track of baby’s every breath and movement, others are content to check in on baby in person every now and then and use a monitor merely to gauge when baby wakes up. There are baby monitors on the market today that fulfill both levels of needs as well as every other need in between.
A basic baby monitor consists of a transmitter that plugs into an outlet in baby’s room no more than 10 feet away from the child and sends audio to a receiver that the parent keeps close at hand. The receiver may be a plug in or battery-operated so you can carry it around. Most receivers, like the Evenflo Whisper 49MHz Connect Monitor, come with a belt clip so they can be worn instead of carried. Simple monitors like these let parents hear a child’s whimpers, coos or cries and measure those sounds with a row of flashing light. The louder the child, the more lights flash and that comes in handy if you’re doing noisy chores like vacuuming or mowing the lawn if you need to make a phone call but don’t want the person you call to hear your child crying. Basic monitors often come with two receivers so one can charge while the other is in use, two parents can monitor the baby at the same time or one can be left in your bedroom while the other does duty in the rest of the house.
Beyond the basics, you’ll find audio/video monitors featuring either black and white or color displays. These monitors are portable, just like basic audio monitors, and allow parents and caregivers to watch baby’s movements on a small video screen while also listening to sound. The base unit is usually a small wall-mounted or tabletop camera you position for optimum viewing in baby’s room.
The highest end baby monitors are audio-based with motion-sensing capabilities to add another level of security. The motion sensors are designed to detect motions as slight as an infant’s breathing and are placed beneath baby’s mattress. If no motion is detected for a number of seconds, an alarm sounds. Motion-sensing monitors have helped soothe many a parent’s worries about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (also known as SIDS).
If you’re the parent of more than one young child, you may be pleased to discover brands that offer multi-room baby monitors. These allow you to keep track of several children at one time. (Keep in mind that multiple monitors within close proximity can interfere with one another.)
Although you probably won’t venture too far away from your slumbering bundle, you do want to consider the distance you want your monitor to cover. Basic monitors cover ranges around 150 feet, while others can transmit signals up to 900 feet. Bear in mind that brick, concrete, stainless steel and other features commonly found in homes and apartment buildings can impair a monitor’s transmission effectiveness. Consider your home’s layout, location of baby’s room compared to where you’ll be spending the bulk of your time and what materials your home is made of before making your purchase.
Many embarrassing moments have occurred in modern-day suburbia due to the baby monitor. Why? Because baby monitors often transmit over the same frequency bands as cordless telephones, cellular phones, CB radios and other baby monitors. Just imagine what you might hear in a neighborhood such as the one the Desperate Housewives live in! Static interference is another concern. This type of interference can often be created by common household equipment such as microwaves, electronics and even fluorescent lights.
Analog monitors tend to be among the least expensive; however, they are also the most prone to interference. By contrast, digital spread spectrum (DSS) technology, such as that offered by the Graco iMonitor, scrambles transmission and is least susceptible to interference problems — which means the Joneses will be less likely to hear you singing you baby to sleep. Other monitors use digital enhanced cordless technology, or DECT for short, which may be the most advanced available in terms of privacy and freedom from static interference.
The strength of your monitor’s frequency band or bandwidth is another consideration. Bandwith is measured in megahertz (MHz) and gigahertz (GHz). The higher the MHz or GHz (GHz being the more powerful of the two), the clearer the signal. However, the higher the bandwidth, the more likely you may be to receive other peoples’ signals as well. If you’re in a neighborhood that’s prone to lots of interference, a lower-powered model might serve you best. Also remember that if you purchase a monitor with the same frequency band as your cordless phone, you’ll be more likely to experience interference problems.
Additional security features include multiple channels. Basic monitors come with two channels, but some offer as many as 60, allowing parents dozens of options for finding the clearest band. Some models provide an auto-select feature that will find the most effective and secure transmission band for you.
Several baby monitors also come with features that offer additional functionality and convenience. For example, the Evenflo Whisper Connect Sensa has a Pet Sensor that sends out an alert when the wayward family cat ventures into baby’s crib while some video monitors allow you to record your snoozing infant, which will at the very least provide good fodder to embarrass him years later during his 16th birthday party.
Multiple receiver models may also include a walkie-talkie feature that allows the parents to talk to each other, while others provide an intercom that offers mommy the opportunity to sing baby back to sleep from a distance. Some monitors provide features that seem more necessary than superfluous, such as low-battery or out-of-range indicators.
One last point: Although monitors do provide a measure of relief for parents concerned about leaving children unattended while they sleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions parents about relying too heavily on a baby monitor. Monitors can certainly be a helpful aid in child-rearing, but they should not replace the need for mom, dad, or the child’s caregiver to personally poke a head in the baby’s room on a regular basis.