September 24, 2019
There's an App (and a Product) for That - But Should There Be? Monitoring Baby Vital Signs with Technology at Home
By: Sharon Muza, BS, CD/BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE | 0 Comments
September is Baby Safety Month and this is a great time for childbirth educators and other perinatal professionals to do a quick review of the material and information that they share with families for both accuracy and relevancy. Recommendations change and new information comes out all the time, so staying up to date with an annual spot check is good practice. Baby Safety Month is a great time to do that. If you want to reread Connecting the Dots’ previous suggestions on this topic, you can find that information here.
The New York Times ran a fascinating piece earlier this month on the use of the “Owlet Smart Sock” baby monitor in their Parenting section. (Note: I suggest a free subscription to the New York Times’ parenting newsletter which has many relevant topics and is a great way stay in touch with what the families in your class may be reading.) The Owlet is a device that wraps around an infant’s foot in order to monitor and record sleep patterns, oxygen levels, and the baby’s heart rate. It is just one of many such products on the market that profess to continually collect and track physiological information from a baby that the parent can access at any time from any location.
Parents set up the device in the crib and/or on the baby and connect it to an installed app on their smartphone. Through their phone or another device, they can receive continuous feedback and a video stream of what their baby is doing. This information reassures anxious and concerned parents that their baby is continuing to breathe and what their respiration and oxygen levels are.
Researchers examining the issue of infant vital sign sensors and connected apps to monitor the health and wellness of a baby have found that the use of such products may very well increase anxiety among parents rather than decrease it. “The emerging market of smartphone-integrated infant physiologic monitors” published in the January 2017 issue of JAMA found that there are no medical indications for use. They also note that the devices have not been evaluated properly and there have been no appropriate guidelines established. There is no evidence that any of these products have life-saving capabilities and there is indeed the potential for harm if they are used by families.
Case in point – in early September, the Owlet smartphone app stopped communicating with the device when the manufacturer pushed out an app update and their servers crashed. Parents were suddenly no longer able to “see” their baby’s status, and frustration, panic, and increased anxiety ensued, both at the lack of information and the inability to continue to track their baby’s status as a live stream. Social media platforms were bombarded with anxious and concerned parents stating their unhappiness at “false alarms” and the failure of the product to work as indicated.
Products such as this create a false sense of trust that the product is working correctly and their baby is well. It also encourages a level of monitoring that increases stress and concern. Parents in my classes ask about these devices all the time, and my response is that if there is concern about the baby, then the baby’s health care provider will provide guidance on the appropriate tools to use to monitor the health and safety of the baby. Unless advised by the HCP, products such as this have been shown to perform unreliably and increase stress and anxiety in those who are using them.
As a birth doula, I had a client once use this product, and during a two-hour postpartum visit, they ran upstairs to the napping baby’s room several times to respond to an alert they received on their phone about the baby’s oxygenation levels. I observed an anxious parent who was constantly on the move double-checking an untested device. A discussion about concerns and anxiety levels is necessary with referrals to appropriate resources if needed is best.
Childbirth educators can highlight proven safety tips for keeping babies healthy and safe while sharing that experts believe that products such as these still need more regulatory guidance and research to evaluate the safety, accuracy, and effectiveness of these products before recommending them to families.
Are the families in your classes using these products? Are they asking you questions about them? How are you responding?
Bonafide, C. P., Jamison, D. T., & Foglia, E. E. (2017). The emerging market of smartphone-integrated infant physiologic monitors. Jama, 317(4), 353-354.
TagsChildbirth education New York Times Baby Safety Baby Safety Month Newborns Sharon Muza Owlet