How to Choose the Best Baby Monitor for Your Family
Learn which features will bring you the most peace of mind
Baby monitors: They’ve come a long way since the walkie-talkie types that simply let parents listen in on their infants. Now there are monitors that allow moms and dads to see as well as hear what’s going on in the nursery, that can sync with a home wireless network and more.
A baby monitor can make you feel as if “you’re right next to your baby all the time,” says Luis C. Marrero, MD, FAAP, neonatologist, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, “which can help with bonding.” They aren’t a medical necessity, he adds, but having a baby monitor when he was a new dad “made me more comfortable since I could hear my daughter in her crib while I was in the kitchen.”
As with anything, it’s great to have lots of choices, but variety can also be baffling. If you’re in the market for a way to keep tabs on your tot, this guide will help you choose the best baby monitor for your family.
Related: The Sleep-Safe Baby Guide
Hear me — or hear me and see me
There are two main types of baby monitors.
Audio monitors. They allow you to hear your little one when she wakes for a feeding or is crying. Most audio monitors also have a series of small LED lights on the receiver that light up in response to sounds from the crib, according to Consumer Reports. This way you can put the audio on mute but still “see” when your baby is awake. You even can gauge if she’s flat-out screaming or just babbling to herself: The louder the noise from the crib, the more lights that will go on.
Video/audio monitors. These feature a small camera that mounts on a wall or sits on a table or other surface, transmitting images (and sound) to a video/audio monitor. You can catch your baby doing something cute, say, or notice if she’s managed to unfurl the blanket she’s swaddled in.
Both audio monitors and audio/video monitors can differ in how they transmit sounds and images. Analog monitors send signals from transmitter to receiver along a selected radio frequency. Digital monitors do the same, but signals are encoded along the way, making it harder for a hacker to get a peek inside your home by accessing your video monitor.
Wireless network monitors tap into your existing wireless network and send images to your desktop or laptop computer, iPhone, iPad or Android device. Handy, yes, but if you choose this type of monitor you will want to create very strong passwords for your network and for the monitor itself for the sake of security.
Baby monitors can come with all sorts of bells and whistles. The more of these a monitor has, the pricier it’s likely to be. Consumer Reports recommends considering the following features.
DECT technology. To cut down on static, interference or even “cross talk” (you can hear someone else’s conversation or they can hear yours), make sure the band on your monitor is different from the one on your cordless phone or other wireless items in your home. A safe bet: Choose a monitor that uses digitally enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) technology, which works on the 1.9-GHz frequency band and is reserved by the Federal Communications Commission for voice-only applications.
Batteries. Besides electrical cords, most baby monitors have a nonrechargeable battery option for the transmitter and a rechargeable battery option for receivers. Note that the battery life can vary wildly among models, so it may help to look at baby monitor reviews to avoid buying one that burns through batteries quickly.
Screen size. On video monitors that have a portable handheld unit, make sure the screen is large enough for you to see your baby clearly. Some allow you to control how bright the screen is.
Night vision. If you want to be able to peek at your baby while she sleeps in a dark room, look for a monitor that features infrared light, or “night vision.”
Volume control. A simple volume control button on the side of the monitor is ideal. You don’t want to have to scroll through a menu on a screen in order to turn the sound up or down.
There are other baby monitor features to consider, such as a temperature sensor so you can keep tabs on how hot or cold your baby’s room is, an extra receiver (so you can keep one by your bed, say, and carry around the other) or a way to connect to your TV's VCR/DVD so you can watch your little one on the big screen. Many of these options are nice, but none are necessary.
The most important thing to remember when using a baby monitor is it doesn’t take the place of following guidelines for baby safety. This is especially important when it comes to prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
“One thing I worry about,” says Marrero, “is because parents can see their baby on video they may be complacent about doing all the things proven to help prevent SIDS. Safety is not in audio or video monitoring, but in following American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for preventing SIDS.”
Related: 9 Baby Safety Myths Debunked