Room with baby mornitor

Are baby monitors bad for babies?

If you look around on the internet, it’s easy to find sources saying that radio waves or various other waves emitted from baby monitors will be harmful to your baby. Though each parent can research and make child safety decisions for themselves, at least for now, there’s no definitively proven link between exposure to baby monitor frequencies and adverse health effects.

Baby monitors are one of the first items parents purchase for a nursery. When a baby is taking a nap, having a monitor in a nursery may provide a parent or nanny with a sense of security that they’ll be alerted to any problem.

During the night, parents feel a monitor will wake them if the baby needs something or is in danger of not breathing. For parents of preemies who are told to be more vigilant because their babies may be more susceptible to SIDS, a monitor may seem like an absolute necessity.

Parents have a myriad of options when it comes to baby monitors. In addition to the basic sound monitor, there are video monitors, movement monitors and wearable baby monitors that track sleep movements, heart rate, breathing patterns and even skin temperature! It couldn’t be more convenient to keep track of your sleeping baby and make some time for yourself, work or tackle household chores. And it seems there couldn’t be a more obvious choice – to use a baby monitor – to prevent every parent’s worst nightmare, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Online baby product directory at My Baby Nursery.

Can baby monitors cause health problems to babies?

Every baby monitor uses a range of radio frequencies to transmit audio and video signals from the monitor to the receptor. Different models of monitors will emit different ranges of radio frequencies, and some could indeed cause potential health hazards for your baby.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an organization that is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared in 2011 that all radio frequencies are a possible cause of cancer.

Most modern baby monitors use DECT or FHSS technologies that operate on frequencies ranging from 1.89 GHz to 2.4 GHz. These are the same electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) that microwaves and WiFi routers use and there are concerns about the high levels of radiation that these devices are emitting.

Baby monitors with an ongoing video signal, in particular, operate by constantly emitting strong bursts of microwave radiations when powered on. These bursts can take place up to 100 times per second, even when placed in standby mode.

baby monitor above crib

Radiation and Your Baby’s Health

Over the years, there have been several conflicting studies on potential health implications of radiation exposure from devices like cell phones. The World Health Organization (WHO) is undertaking a wide study of radiation impacts to see where the concerns should fall.1 For now, though, there’s not many conclusive data on baby monitors specifically, and the perks of these monitors often outweigh those worries.

For safety, many monitors use technologies that are similar to what is used in hospitals and NICUs, and several also take pains to address radiation concerns in FAQ sections. If you are still concerned about radiation levels, look for monitors that speak to those specific apprehensions.

Parents who are worried about signal exposure can limit the amount of time their child wears or is near the monitor—keeping an Owlet baby monitor on just at night or during naps, for instance, or turning off sound monitors when someone is in the room looking after the child.

Keeping Your Child Safe

Monitors that track your baby’s vital signs can help ease worries for many parents. The benefit of being able to track whether a child has stopped breathing is worth the investment. And luckily, parents can reduce any potential safety hazards by using the monitors or wearables wisely.

The website Baby Safety Zone, which is run by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), points out that cords from baby monitors can cause safety hazards if they are placed in precarious spots in a child’s bedroom.2 To minimize the risk of harm, the JPMA recommends keeping monitors well out of baby’s reach, paying attention to how a baby’s reach changes over time to adjust that distance as needed, and never placing a monitor inside or on the edge of a crib.

Finding the Best Monitor for Baby Safety

At SafeWise, we’re always committed to helping you make safe choices for yourself, your home, and your family. There are a number of great baby monitoring products on the market today, and many of them are thoroughly tested and extensively reviewed, to give you more peace of mind while your baby slumbers.

Looking for baby monitors for baby nursery? Look no further. Check out our range here.

Some Families May Need Monitors; Other Families May Not

Let me start by saying all families have different styles of parenting, and everyone’s house is a different size and shape.

If you have a 500 square foot apartment, then you will likely have no problem hearing your baby from anywhere in your home – and you probably will not need a baby monitor. However, a family that has a 3,000 square foot home with three floors may very well need monitors placed strategically throughout the house.

What About Movement Monitors?

Of course, not every family buys a baby monitor strictly to hear the baby when she cries. Today, some monitors detect movement designed to help reduce the risk of SIDS. Movement monitors can alert parents when a baby hasn’t moved in a certain amount of time. An alarm sounds letting parents know that the baby has been completely still for too long.

And, now there are even monitors that detect heart rate and oxygen levels.

The reviews on these kinds of monitors are fairly positive. And, some families have truly incredible stories of actually catching their not-breathing baby in the nick of time and intervening before something truly awful happened. However, other parents report lots of false alarms, resulting in unnecessary middle-of-the-night wakings and anxiety for everyone.

In this post, though, we’re going to focus strictly on sound and video monitors, and how they impact sleep.

Baby Monitors and Baby Sleep: The Good

There is a distinct up-side to sound monitors (both the video and the non-video versions). A monitor is great to help you…well…monitor your baby’s crying.

Is it a hungry cry? Is he distressed? Is that his falling asleep moan? Is his leg stuck between the crib slats? (You’d need a video monitor to see that one, of course).

This is all easier to do with a monitor than putting your ear to the door or poking your head in the room while trying not to let your baby see you (or maybe even doing an army-crawl across the nursery floor, to do some reconnaissance!)

Baby monitors are also great if you have a large home. If your baby sleeps on the second floor, for example, and you and your partner want to watch a movie in the basement, a monitor can give you peace of mind. The same is true if you want to take your older children outside to play in the yard, while the baby naps.

A monitor allows you to do these things without needing to worry that you’re leaving the baby unattended.

And, of course, baby monitors can be really helpful during sleep training, too, for the same reasons. Parents who use no-cry sleep coaching methods and stay in the room may not need to use a monitor. But, if you use any cry method of sleep training and leave the room, you’ll want to keep tabs on your baby’s cries. A monitor makes it easy to do that.

However, while baby monitors can be helpful, they can also become a problem.

Check out our post on What to consider when buying a baby monitor?

Baby Monitors and Baby Sleep: The Bad and The Ugly

The good thing about baby monitors is that they let you hear your baby’s every cry. But the bad thing about baby monitors is…that they let you hear your baby’s EVERY CRY (and sniffle, and squeak, and moan, and hiccup, and…you get the idea!)

In the newborn stage, you’ll no doubt find that your baby makes lots of little sounds throughout the night. A baby monitor amplifies all of those, and so every sound your baby makes will probably wake you from your own precious, much-needed sleep.

And, if it sends you running to check on your baby (a perfectly normal new parent instinct, by the way!), you may end up inadvertently waking up your baby – something which no parent wants to do!

What are the dangers and health side effects of baby monitors?

A baby’s skull is thinner to allow its continued growth and the development of the brain until about the age of 20 when they are considered to be fully developed. Hence, a child’s brain is very sensitive to the effects of electromagnetic radiation during these formative years.

The image below illustrates how electromagnetic radiations are absorbed in a child’s head versus a ten-year-old and an adult when placed next to a mobile phone.

As a baby’s brain is developing very rapidly, even small exposures to electromagnetic frequencies can have significant long-term impacts. Some of the possible dangers and side effects of exposure to elevated levels of electromagnetic radiation include:

  • Incomplete or problematic development of the brain ;
  • Disruption of a baby’s sleep cycle ;
  • Negative impact on the immune system ;
  • Negative impact on the reproductive system.

These side effects are amplified for babies whose brain and body are rapidly developing.

A 2012 study by Dr Andrew Goldsworthy, a former lecturer at Imperial College London, found that there has been a 60-fold increase in autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) in recent years. This increase, according to the study, can only be explained by changes in our environment.

Because mobile phones, WiFi routers, and low-frequency fields from domestic appliances are increasingly present in our lives, we are now more exposed to electromagnetic radiations than ever before.

It is thus important to holistically consider the environment in which you will place your baby monitor.

The Truth About Baby Monitors

Most baby monitors today are wireless and transmit information either over an analog or digital frequency. Analog can transmit over an FM radio band at 40 Mhz while digital uses one of several technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth and Digital Enhanced Cordless Communication (DECT) to transmit at different strength frequencies. While analog is considered safer than digital, the concern is that it’s wireless.

Thermal Effect

The thermal effect refers to the ability of NIR to heat things. It is NIR that is responsible for heating food in a microwave. The same thing happens to the tissues of our body when we are in close contact with a cell phone, cordless phone or baby monitor – the non-ionizing radiation it emits heats tissues up (e.g. brain tissue). 

There is an attempt to determine the point at which exposure to the thermal effect is not safe. Referred to as the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), this value is a measure of the amount of radiation absorbed by the body when a device is at its maximum power. The FCC approves a device as “safe” if it does not exceed the maximum allowable limit of 1.6 watts per kilogram (W/kg), as averaged over one gram of tissue. But this limit offers a false sense of security.

First, the level was determined in 1993 when exposure to NIR was far less. It also does not consider exposure to multiple devices at the same time, which is the case today. Second, the level was determined using a plastic, liquid-filled, computer model based on a 220-pound mannequin, not a child, an infant or a fetus.

These are just two of many reasons why the SAR value is a very ineffective tool for gauging the danger a device poses to infants and children.

An important study in 1996 confirmed that children are exposed to higher levels of radiation from devices than adults. Children’s skulls are thinner, and their ears are smaller, so radiation has a shorter distance to travel before it penetrates their brain.

Non-Thermal Effect

The second effect NIR has that is rarely if at all addressed when evaluating baby monitors (or any other NIR-emitting device), is the non-thermal effect. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine points out that this effect has been linked to “genetic damage, reproductive defects, cancer, neurological degeneration and nervous system dysfunction, immune system dysfunction, cognitive effects, protein and peptide damage, kidney damage, and developmental effects.

For example, Dr Hugh S. Taylor, professor and chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at Yale University, studied the effects of non-ionizing radiation on the fetuses of pregnant mice. He and his team found that those adult mice that had been exposed to cell phone radiation had behavioural problems such as hyperactivity and reduced memory capacity. Dr Taylor states that this was the “first experimental evidence that fetal exposure to radiofrequency radiation from cellular telephones does affect adult behaviour.”

How to Properly Use a Baby Monitor

The most important thing to do is keep the baby monitor at least three feet away from any part of the crib, bassinet, play yard, or other safe sleep environments. That’s roughly the width of the crib plus six inches. Place the monitor far away, and tuck in the cords so curious little hands don’t even think about playing with them. Never position a monitor inside or on the edge of a crib.

While you’re at it, examine the areas your child eats, plays and sleeps every time they meet a new physical milestone. This is a good time to do a general safety check.

  • Can your baby rollover? Great! Get on your belly on the floor and look at the world from their perspective. You’ll pick up on things you might otherwise miss that way.
  • Can your baby sit-up? Awesome! Repeat the above (and lower the crib mattress).
  • Can your baby crawl, pull to stand, cruise, walk or run? Wonderful! View the world from their perspective as I instructed in number one above. Make sure their environment is safe. Kids are usually taller than we think they are and can always reach things we never thought they could.

Other Safety Tips

Place the cords of your window blinds up and out-of-reach. Use electrical outlet covers. Add door knob covers. Make sure household cleaners and medications are out of reach and locked. Make it a priority to follow these safety tips as soon as your child meets a new milestone, if not before. A good rule of thumb is to be six months ahead of your baby, safety-wise.

To keep your baby safe, immediately check the location of all monitors and other products with electric cords, including those mounted on the wall, to make sure cords are out of your child’s reach.

Baby Monitors During Sleep Training

As your baby gets older, you may come to the point when you decide to sleep train, to help your baby sleep through the night. While a baby monitor may help you with sleep coaching, it can also hinder your progress. Having a fuss or cry magnified in a monitor may make your heart beat twice as fast and make you think that someone is either kidnapping your child or that he is facing extreme harm.

Of course, some babies may have medical conditions that require parents to check-in frequently, and in those cases, parents will probably want to listen for every little sound. But, for the average healthy baby, we don’t need to hear every little noise the baby makes. Remember, fussing and crying a little between sleep cycles is very normal and expected. But if you respond to every little fuss or cry, you may inadvertently get in your way. In that case, your baby will not have the opportunity to learn to fall asleep on his own.

Remember, a baby monitor is a tool. And as with so many tools in your parenting toolbox, it’s not the tools themselves, but how you use them, that ends up making the difference. If your baby monitor is proving to be a helpful tool, then by all means – use it! But if your baby monitor is waking you unnecessarily at night, or making you tear your hair out during sleep training, then it might be time to put it away (at least, for a while!)

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