Baby monitors are designed to offer peace of mind
After those first few anxious weeks, chances are you'll stop watching baby's every breath and start wanting to get something done while baby sleeps -- or even sleep yourself. Baby monitors can ease your anxiety by linking you or another caregiver with your baby. Monitors transmit audio, video or both from the nursery to a portable parent unit. Some monitors also have sensors that detect breathing or movement, while others even alert you to baby's cries via your smartphone.
Baby monitors are just one of the essential items parents need when setting up their nursery. Be sure to check our related reports on baby safety gates and portable cribs for more buying advice.
Audio baby monitors let parents listen for their babies at a reasonable price
There are two major types of audio baby monitors: analog and digital. Analog monitors are among the cheapest out there, mostly under $30. These budget models may not have a lot of features beyond adjustable volume and sometimes sound-activated lights that let you know your baby is crying even if the parent unit is on mute. They're also susceptible to interference, since they may use the same frequency as other household electronics, or even neighbors' phones or baby monitors.
Digital audio baby monitors can still be susceptible to interference, particularly with wireless networks, but an encrypted signal means your neighbor won't hear your baby -- and your neighbor's phone conversation won't come through your monitor. The best digital monitors have DECT technology that can eliminate interference, but they are generally pricier than non-DECT models. Digital monitors often have a few more features than analog monitors, such as a voice-activation mode that keeps the monitor from transmitting background noise. Some even have nightlights or lullabies.
Video baby monitors give parents an extra set of eyes
If hearing your baby isn't enough, a video baby monitor can let you see what's going on in the nursery, too. The nursery unit still picks up audio, but a camera lets you know whether your baby is rolling around the crib (or if your toddler is escaping it). The cameras typically sit on a tabletop or are mounted on a wall. Video monitors employ the same digital and DECT technology to encrypt signals and reduce or eliminate interference. They also have a range of extras, including lullabies, nightlights and night vision that let parents see their child even when it's dark.
For parents who can't live without their smartphones, smartphone-compatible baby monitors transmit sound and images picked up by a camera in the nursery to most smartphones, tablets and computers. That means parents can check on their babies from any location as long as they have access to Wi-Fi or a cellular data plan. While the convenience of unlimited range is a huge selling point, these monitors often are subject to glitches and connection issues that may require some technical savvy to overcome.
Motion-detection baby monitors help some parents sleep easier
Motion-detection monitors continuously check for even the slightest baby movements, sounding an alarm if nothing is detected after a short period of time. Though experts say motion-detection monitors do not prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), many parents swear by the peace of mind they feel these monitors give. Some motion detection monitors attach to baby's diaper, while others sense movement via a sensor pad placed under the crib mattress. Parents should beware of false alarms, though, which can interrupt everyone's sleep. Motion-detection monitors are available with a range of features, including sound and video parent units.
How we chose the best baby monitors
Several experts have conducted hands-on testing of baby monitors. The best resources include thorough reviews and ratings by BabyGearLab.com, TheNightlight.com and PCMag.com. Reviews and ratings that include parent feedback, including resources from "Baby Bargains" and BabyCenter.com, are also very helpful. Parent feedback from Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com provides real-world perspectives on baby monitors. We considered reviewers' opinions on performance, ease of use, and range of features while evaluating our sources to help you find the best baby monitors.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Audio Baby Monitors | Best Video Baby Monitors | Best Motion Detection Monitors | Buying Guide | Our Sources