If there is one area of retail buying people are most anxious about, it is safety products for babies and children. Baby monitors used to be simple plug and listen affairs but there has been an explosion in types and methods of keeping tabs on your little ones which has left many people floundering, overwhelmed by so many options and not knowing which one will suit them best. Monitors are often an expensive investment which families with all the expenses of a newborn can little afford to get wrong. Finding the right model from the outset can save a lot of worry and stress as well as those precious pennies. But how to navigate the confusing waters of so many different types of monitors with so many different features and functions? This guide should help you make the right decision first time, taking into account all of your own individual circumstances and needs and matching them to the monitor best suited to your requirements and wallet. We have trawled through the market of best-buy monitors, weeding out the duds, and reviewing the cream of all the choices, synthesising the experiences and views of many customers, giving you an at-a-glance way to find your ideal model.
Firstly, take some time to think about what you need from a monitor. Who is it going to be used for? A newborn or an older child; for one child, several or many; to keep an eye on a pet overnight or when you’re away from your home; or even, as is more common these days, to help with the care of an elderly relative?
Secondly, what kind of surveillance would you like? This will depend on who you are caring for. For a vulnerable, premature newborn, the ability to detect apnoea episodes through a breathing sensor could be the most important feature in a monitor. For an older child, being able to listen to the child in their own bedroom without disturbing them to check they’re ok may be more important than being able to watch them through a video link. Two-way audio can be useful if you want to be able to talk back to the child in their room from wherever in the house you are without having to constantly run up and down the stairs, disturbing your own evening. If you want to be able to watch what is happening in the baby’s room as well as listen, then a video monitor with infra-red camera technology to see in the dark could be useful.
How and where do you want to receive the surveillance information? How far away will you be from the monitor unit in the baby’s room: downstairs; in the garden; generally staying in one place; moving around a lot from room to room? Some parent units are more portable and have longer battery lives than others; some are less portable and work best when plugged in; others can send a signal using the house wifi signal. The traditional portable parent unit is great for listening in to audio reception from the baby’s room, usually with a limited distance of reception from the baby’s unit; more high-tech monitors feature a screen on the parent unit for video reception but are again limited in the distance they can roam from the baby’s room without losing the link; the latest technology allows you to watch and listen on your lap-top or smartphone via wifi, meaning, for example, that a working parent can say goodnight to their child from the office.
Different monitor types at a glance
Basic Audio-only Baby Monitors
These are the original kind of baby monitors and are still the simplest and cheapest. They consist of a baby unit which stays in the room with the baby or child, listening to the sound there, and a parent unit which stays with the parent and plays the sound out loud. Most have various sound channels which can be used to minimise interference, and some have more modern, secure, DECT audio technology for clearer sound and less interference. Some audio-only monitors feature two-way audio so that the parent can talk back to their child through the unit. This can be particularly useful for older children who may just need a few words of reassurance before falling back to sleep, meaning that the parent does not need to leave their chair to soothe them.
The main advantages of this kind of monitor are price and simplicity. At the budget end of the market, these basic monitors are ideal for the cash-conscious parent, and for those who don’t need the extra reassurance of more detailed surveillance. They often come with added features such as a night-light or room thermometer. Ideal for older children or more experienced parents, the only problems with audio-only monitors tend to be difficulties with signal and range.
The advantages of audio-only monitors are:
Simple to set up and use.
Longer battery life on battery-operated parent units due to less demand from complicated features.
Generally cheaper than other varieties of monitor.
More portable than many types of monitor, so can easily be transported for use on holiday, at grandparents’ house, or other places.
The downsides are:
Issues with interference to the sound signal.
Not being able to see your baby as well as hear them.
Examples of audio-only monitors:
- BT300 Digital Baby Monitor
- Tomy TF500 Digital Baby Monitor
- Motorola MBP8 Digital Audio Baby Monitor
- Philips Avent SCD560/01 Baby Monitor
Video Baby Monitors
Monitors with a video link consist of a camera in the baby’s room and a parent unit with a video screen to see a live picture broadcast from the baby unit’s camera. Most video monitors have cameras with pan and tilt functions so the camera can be moved to track an active baby or older child from the parent unit. They also have infra-red capability so the child can be seen even in a dark room at night. This gives so much more reassurance than just audio surveillance. It is much easier to see if the child is actually awake and in distress or if they are merely talking in their sleep. For older children who tend to wander, it can also be very handy to be able to see quickly if they are in their room or not.
Some video monitors can support multiple cameras, so you can watch several children at once on a split-screen or alternating screen basis. These monitors are also good for keeping an eye on elderly relatives, pets or even as security cameras for cars or outbuildings. Many video monitors also feature an audio talk-back function so the parent can respond to any situation they see on the screen without having to get up and go to the child’s room.
The advantages of video baby monitors are:
You can see your baby as well as hear them.
Some systems allow multiple cameras so you can watch several children at once.
Infra-red function on the camera allows you to see your baby in a dark room without having to turn a light on and potentially disturb the child.
The downsides are:
Video systems can be more complicated to set up and use, especially with multiple cameras.
Battery life on the parent unit can be shorter than with audio-only monitors.
There can be issues with signal and picture clarity.
Examples of Video Baby Monitors are:
- BT7500 Video Lightshow Baby Monitor
- Foscam FBM3501 Video Baby Monitor
- Motorola MBP27T Digital Video Baby Monitor
- Philips Avent SCD603/01 Digital Video Baby Monitor
Wifi/Smartphone/Laptop Video Monitors
Smartphone-enabled monitors are basically a different kind of video monitor, with a camera in the baby’s room, but instead of seeing the image sent from the baby’s room on a parent unit, you can install an app allowing you to receive it on a smartphone (android or iPhone), tablet, laptop or conventional computer. This can eliminate issues with distance, as you can choose to receive the images wherever you are. This technology is very flexible with many potential uses. It can be used to keep an eye on teenagers or frail elderly relatives at home while you are at work, it could be used to check up on the babysitter while you’re at a restaurant, as well as the more conventional usage of listening to your baby asleep upstairs while you are downstairs watching a film in the living room. Monitors with two-way capability mean that a parent who is at work or away can say goodnight to a child or even tell a bedtime story to them.
Security can be an issue with wifi monitors, but most have encryption software meaning that no one can hack into your data and watch your child. They are, however, subject to the usual internet gremlins, such as dropped signal and buffering, or apps being mysteriously incompatible with your phone or operating system.
The advantages of wifi/smartphone/tablet monitors are:
Being able to see your child on your mobile device no matter where you are.
Being able to communicate with your child from your device.
Using a wifi signal for the video and audio signal from the baby’s room.
The downsides are:
These systems can be expensive.
It can be complicated to set up the camera and signal, and there can be glitches in the apps allowing you to see the images of your child.
Examples of Wifi/Smartphone/Tablet Baby Monitors are:
- Annke Sparkle 1 Wireless HD Camera Wifi Baby Monitor
- Keekoon H264 HD P2P Wireless IP Camera Wifi Baby Monitor
This type of monitor takes surveillance to another level by sensing the breathing movements of the baby and sounding an alarm if they cease for a specified length of time, or if they are irregular. This can be especially useful for parents of premature or otherwise vulnerable small babies, for people who have suffered a cot death in the family previously, for babies or children who suffer from any kind of breathing problems such as asthma, or just for that extra reassurance, especially for the first-time parent who may be more anxious. There are probably no parents alive who have never stood by a peacefully sleeping baby watching to see if they are breathing, and tempted to poke them to reassure themselves that the baby is actually breathing fine. Baby breathing monitors can do that for you, giving you that extra reassurance without having to wake the baby to check they are still breathing.
There are two types of breathing monitor: those with a sensor pad which is fitted under the mattress in the baby’s cot or bed, and those which clip on to the baby’s clothing at the front. The sensor pad version can be fiddly to fit and needs to be securely and accurately fastened in order to be safe in the baby’s sleeping area, and to minimise false alarms triggered by the baby not being properly on the sensor pad. This can make this type of breathing monitor impractical for older babies or children or younger, very wriggly, babies. Sensor pad monitors usually have an audio function as well, so the parent can listen for their child waking as well as be reassured on their breathing status.
Clip-style breathing monitors usually consist of just one unit which clips to the baby’s nappy or front clothing, monitoring chest and tummy movements to ensure continued respiration. This style is especially good for using in the car or when otherwise out and about as it is extremely portable, but it has no audio or video monitoring function, and as it consists of only one unit, you would need another kind of monitor to listen or watch your baby when out of the room or to check if the baby is still asleep.
The advantages of breathing monitors are:
Knowing that your baby is breathing healthily while sleeping.
If your child does have an apnoea episode, you will be alerted soon enough to take appropriate action. These kind of monitors have saved lives.
The downsides are:
You may need an additional form of baby monitor to let you check whether your child is awake from another room, as well as the breathing monitor.
Sensor pad types of breathing monitor can be fiddly to fit properly.
False alarms from breathing monitors can be terrifying.
Examples of Breathing Monitors are:
- Angelcare AC401 Movement and Sound Monitor
- Snuza Go Baby Movement Monitor
Other Things To Consider
Many baby monitors have additional features in addition to the basic monitoring functions, which are worth considering. Different families will find different features vital, useful, unhelpful, or downright annoying, so it is worth looking into the various different options available.
Many, if not most, baby monitors include a night-light on the baby unit, and some parents find this helpful, while others consider it an annoyance. Some night-lights can be switched on and off or even dimmed from the parent unit, whilst others are only controlled from the baby unit. Baby room thermometers are another popular feature, allowing parents to ensure their child is not too hot or too cold which can interfere with sound sleeping.
Songs and lightshows are a relatively new idea but one which is gaining in popularity. Some monitors include a large repertoire of soothing classical music, nursery rhymes, white noise or even heartbeats which can be played by the baby’s unit, controlled from the parent unit, to help lull a wakeful child back off to sleep. A lightshow of stars or planets or moving soft lights projected onto a wall or ceiling is another function which some parents find helpful for aiding restful sleep.
Obviously, night-lights, recorded music and sounds, and lightshows can all be purchased in separate, dedicated items so these features should be considered as additional to the main function of the baby monitor, which is to monitor the child and keep the parent updated on the child’s current state. It can be easy to be swayed by the add-ons when actually it might be more cost-effective to buy two separate items, both dedicated to their specific function. Or even to acknowledge that the add-ons sound good, but you’ll never actually use them.
Hopefully, this guide will have helped you in your quest for the perfect monitor for your family needs, and clarified the muddy waters of all the different styles and functions so that you know what you are looking for and how to find it.