Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Smartphone apps to monitor infant's vital signs not proven

Posted January 26

Doctors release new infant sleep guidelines for parents

If you've shopped the baby aisles in the past couple of years, you may have noticed a new product marketed toward worried parents of newborns - special monitors built into socks, onesies and other items. They claim to display, via a smartphone app, a baby's breath, pulse and blood oxygen saturation and sound alarms in cases of apnea and other possible problems.

But an opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association recommends new parents save their money.

The piece, written by Christopher Bonafide, a pediatrics researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, says there is no evidence that they work and that they could actually lead to more harm than good.

This new class of baby monitor has grown in the last two years with products from companies such as Owlet and Baby Vida. They're not cheap, but they are flying off the shelves. According to the JAMA letter, Owlet Baby Care has sold 40,000 of its "smart sock" monitors at $250 a piece. It claims to alert parents if their infant stops breathing.

Bonafide writes that there are no medical reasons for monitoring healthy infants at home. What's more, an American Academy of Pediatrics policy says parents shouldn't use home monitors like these as a strategy to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome because there's no data that they actually reduce the risk of SIDS.

While the number of SIDS cases has dropped in recent years, it's still a leading cause of death among infants. About 3,500 babies die from SIDS each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The makers of these products, the letter writes, don't claim to prevent SIDS, in part, because then they'd need to comply with U.S. Food and Drug Administration medical device regulations to do so, the letter says.

Bonafide writes that questions about the monitors' safety, accuracy and effectiveness need to be answered. And, so far, medical apps like these have had disappointing track records. Bonafide cited an evaluation of blood pressure apps that found that nearly 80 percent indicated that a person's blood pressure was normal when it wasn't.

In fact, researchers say, the best way to monitor a baby is the old fashioned way - by simply watching and touching them.

"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," said Helen Ball, director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab at Durham University in the United Kingdom in a Reuters article.

"Perhaps many of us believe we have better or other things to do with our time than monitor the baby directly with our eyes, ears, and touch," said Ball, who wasn't part of the report. "One way in which monitors could hurt kids is by reducing the amount of care and attention they receive directly from their parents."

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