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How to Buy: A Baby Monitor

Rest easy: you can keep track of baby -- even if she’s not right in front of you. We've got your need-to-know tips on choosing the right monitor.

After that first ride home from the hospital, the next scariest thing is probably putting baby to bed -- away from you -- for the first time. Monitors help you keep tabs on baby through audio and/or visual surveillance, giving you (relative) peace of mind. 

The most important thing you can do when buying a baby monitor? Be completely familiar with the store’s return policy and save the receipt. So much of a monitor’s performance depends on the wireless gear in your own home as well as your neighbors’, so there’s simply no way to know what’ll work for you until you buy and try. This might mean going back to the store a few times...yes, annoying, but not as bad as the uncontrollable static coming from an ineffective monitor.

Different monitors offer all sorts of features -- some of which might be very important to you and others that may just seem excessive. (Hey, for some parents, even the idea of a monitor itself is excessive. It’s totally fine to go minimal with your monitor.) Here are some of the main features you’ll find on the market and important things to consider:

Receivers: This is what you hold onto to keep track of what’s going on with baby. Monitors vary in whether they come with one or two. Some are sold with only one, but can work with two if you purchase another one separately. Consider how you plan to use the monitor -- you may want two receivers so both parents can have one, or so you can have two main stations around the house, or so you can always keep one in your bedroom and designate the other for roaming. If you live in a smaller home, though, one receiver may be all you need.

Size: If you have a big house or know you’ll be moving around a lot with the monitor, look for something that’s not too bulky and easy to carry around. Dorky as they may feel, belt clips can be very useful.

Power source: A monitor that runs on rechargeable batteries will save you cash, and you’ll never have to worry about running out of batteries. You’ll also find monitors that run on regular batteries, and other that you plug into a base to recharge. Some monitors offer multiple options. For monitors that run on either type of battery, a low-charge alert is a helpful feature.

Digital vs. analog: Monitors transmit through either digital or analog technology. Digital monitors are much better at quieting interference and protecting privacy (meaning the neighbors won’t pick up your baby’s snores while they’re on a wireless phone…or vice versa), but are also more expensive. If you live in a densely populated area, though, it’s probably worth the extra price. If you’re in a more rural setting, a cheaper analog monitor might do the job just fine.

Range: Consider how far your receiver will be able to travel from the nursery base while still being effective. Your needs here obviously depend on your living situation -- if you have a large home or want to be able to spend time in the backyard while baby naps, you’ll need a greater range. Many monitors sound an alert when you move out of range, which will save you from needing to obsess about the exact number of feet between the nursery and your garden.

Frequency: Minimize interference by choosing a monitor that operates on a different frequency than your other household wireless equipment, like phones and computers. (If that makes no sense, don’t worry -- just be sure to ask the salesperson about it when making the purchase.)

Channels: Monitors are also able to operate on different channels, changing them is another way to reduce interference -- just like your childhood walkie-talkies. Some monitors automatically adjust and readjust to the best channel.

Visual soundbar lights: These show the volume of baby’s cries by illuminating a certain number of lights. If you’re making a phone call or doing another task that requires quiet, you can turn off the audio monitor but still have the lights to rely on. This feature can also come in handy when you’re doing something loud, like vacuuming or watching television, and are more likely to see the lights than hear baby’s cries. Just be sure the lights aren’t so bright that they interfere with your sleep…you’ve already got enough working against you in that department.

Volume: Make sure the monitor can be turned up loud enough so you can actually hear what’s going on without being right next to the monitor at all times.

Sensitivity adjustor: This lets you adjust the amount you hear from the nursery. At first, you may want to keep it turned up all the way so you can simply hear baby’s breathing. As you become more confident, it will be nice to be able to change to a lower setting that picks up just the most serious cries.

Temperature sensor: In addition to monitoring baby’s activity, some monitors also are able to read the room temperature to let you know if it’s too cool or too toasty. 

Pager: As crazed new parents, it would be surprising if you didn’t misplace a receiver every so often. A paging system is great for when this (yes, inevitably) happens.

Warranty: The longer, the better!

Tip: When you hear a cry, wait 30 seconds. It might be a phase of sleep or dreaming. That way you don’t have to get up…and risk waking a peaceful baby if it really was just nothing.


Video features
Monitors aren’t just limited to audio surveillance -- you can find lots of different options that actually offer video monitoring. With these, you don’t need to try and decode baby’s cry to see what’s going on and if she needs anything. Instead, you can simply check your monitor and watch what’s happening and potentially save yourself an unnecessary trip to baby’s room and avoid the possibility of (god forbid) waking a blissfully dreaming baby. If baby is up but you can see from the monitor that she’s fine, you don’t run the risk of entering her room and getting her excited for playtime and to be held. At 3:00 a.m.

Screen: Video monitors are available in both color and black and white options. Look for a screen that lets you adjust the brightness.

Auto night vision: This lets you keep an eye on baby even when her room is pitch dark. (On this setting, you’ll see black and white even on a color monitor.)

Camera adjustments: Features like pan and zoom help you see everything that’s happening, on both minute and larger levels. 

Internet hookups: At work and missing baby? This fun feature lets you turn on your computer, sign on to a secure site, and watch her snooze. (It can also serve double purpose as an incidental nanny cam.)

Television hookups: If the receiver screen seems too small, you can connect it to your television and watch at larger than life size.

Camera: When you see baby doing something cute on the monitor (um, like every three minutes or so), this attachment lets you document it in photo form.

Sensor pads
Some audio monitors now have sensor pads that you can place under baby’s sheets. The pads sense movement, so if baby stops moving or breathing for 20 seconds, you’ll immediately be notified with a beep. Once baby starts moving more (around five months or so) you might start getting false alarms when baby simple squirms off the mat. Before then, though, you shouldn’t have much trouble. While research hasn’t actually proven that these pads reduce the risk of SIDS, they can certainly provide peace of mind for especially nervous parents. If your baby has other health problems, these can be extremely helpful.

 

-- Paula Kashtan

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