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 breath or movement, while others even alert you to baby's cries via your smartphone.
Audio baby monitors let parents listen for their babies at a reasonable price. Among them are analog monitors, which are typically the cheapest audio baby monitors. These budget models may not have a lot of features beyond adjustable volume and perhaps 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. Despite their limitations, many parents find they help keep tabs on their babies just fine, and they like the bargain price -- it's not hard to find an analog monitor for under $30.
Digital audio baby monitors are outpacing their analog cousins with better technology. Though many are still susceptible to interference, particularly with wireless networks, 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 night-lights or lullabies. Prices range from about $30 to more than $100, depending on features.
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 whether 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, night-lights and night vision that let parents see their child even when it's dark. Prices range from about $100 to $300, depending on features and the number of cameras parents need.
Motion-detection baby monitors offer additional peace of mind for many parents. These monitors continuously check for even the slightest 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. About $70 will buy a basic movement-only monitor, and more than $100 will get you a monitor that tracks both sound and movement. Top-of-the-line units that include video may approach $300.
Smartphone-compatible baby monitors keep babies in sight wherever parents roam. For people who can't live without their smartphones, a new breed of baby monitor makes the parent receiver obsolete. 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 high-speed Internet 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. About $75 to $100 can buy a basic remote-monitoring camera, but pricier models with enhanced night vision, intercoms, night-lights and lullabies can be $200 to $300.
Whatever baby monitor you choose, using it safely should be your top priority. In 2013, Angelcare recalled 600,000 monitors following reports that two infants strangled themselves after pulling cords from the motion-sensor pads into their cribs. In 2011, Summer Infant recalled 1.7 million video monitors after two similar strangulation deaths. The Consumer Product Safety Commission cautions parents to keep baby monitor cords out of children's reach and several feet away from cribs at all times.
ConsumerSearch has analyzed expert and customer reviews to evaluate clarity, ease of use and lifestyle factors for popular baby monitors. The results are our picks for the best baby monitors on the market.