Baby monitors are designed to provide a link between the nursery and the parent or caregiver. Monitors transmit audio and/or video images from the nursery to a portable, remote unit. Some monitors also have sensors that detect breath and movement. Monitors give parents the freedom to move around the house and yard knowing that the monitor will signal them when they are needed.
The most basic baby monitor is an audio radio system that broadcasts sounds from a transmitter unit in the baby's room to a remote receiver unit using an analog signal. Ranging in price from $15 to $30, these monitors are easy on the budget, but in an increasingly digitized age can be subject to major signal interference, resulting in static, loss of link to the nursery and a nonsecure connection -- in other words, your neighbors may be able to listen in to your household over your monitor's broadcast.
Digital audio monitors ($40-$150) reduce the risk of interference. The best digital monitors with digitally enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) can eliminate static, clicking and accidental eavesdropping, but they are generally found at the higher end of the price range.
Many parents opt for audio/video monitors that broadcast sound and video images. Because the images are transmitted to the parent receiver wirelessly, these monitors can also be subject to interference issues. The best video monitors resist interference in both audio and video transmission and use digital technology to ensure privacy. Smartphone (iOS) compatible video monitors are an emerging presence in the market, and they are probably the future of baby monitoring. These "smart" monitors omit the parent receiver and transmit directly to the parent's phone. In some cases, these systems also allow parents to monitor their baby using the Internet from almost any location.
With levels of anxiety about crib related deaths and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) running high among families, some parents want more reassurance than an audio and/or video monitor will provide. Movement monitors use sensors to detect subtle breathing movements from the child and will sound an alarm if movement is not detected (usually after 20 seconds). These alarms sound in a baby's room, and there is a higher level of false alarms with these types of monitors that can cause sleep interruptions for babies and families.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics warn that monitors cannot prevent harm from coming to your child. Movement monitors, in particular, do not prevent SIDS. Both organizations also express concerns about misleading claims baby monitor manufacturers may make about their products. Experts say that if your baby suffers from severe sleep apnea or other conditions that place him or her at risk when sleeping, a medical grade monitor should be used. However, many parents whose babies do not require hospital grade monitoring purchase movement monitors for the peace of mind it gives them.
As with all baby products, safety is a top priority when using a baby monitor. In February 2011, Summer Infant, in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), voluntarily recalled all of their corded baby monitors to provide new product labels and instructions. This action was taken after seven infants were reported to have strangled on baby monitor cords. Two of those were Summer Infant monitors. This was not a specific product recall due to negligence on the part of Summer Infant; rather, this was an attempt by the CPSC to more aggressively educate and warn parents about baby monitor safety via more prominent warning labels and instructions. Always keep baby monitor cords well out of your baby's reach, and closely follow the instructions for setting up your monitor safely.
In addition to audio and video signals, high-end monitors often come with convenience features such as, remote-operated lullaby playback machines, talk back to baby intercoms, remote operated nightlights and temperature/humidity sensors. Some even offer a voice activation feature in which the transmitter tunes out white noise and only transmits arousal sounds coming from the baby. This can offer parents a more settled sleep.
The most important feature in a monitor -- whether it be audio, video or smartphone compatible -- is its ability to transmit a reliable signal. Most monitors advertise a specific range capability (distance from the transmitter to the receiver). This range is generally established in wide open areas with few to no sources of potential interference. In choosing our best reviewed monitors in all categories, we paid close attention to recommendations from reviewers who tested how monitors stood up to range and interference challenges in real life situations. We also carefully reviewed hundreds of consumer reviews to determine how monitor performance held up over the long term -- and how customer service reacted when it didn't.