What is the Best Baby Monitor?
One of the most “gadgety” purchases that you make when planning for your new baby, is choosing your baby monitor. I enjoyed this purchase; it felt a little bit like buying a new mobile phone. Most of the features are very standard across all models, so how do you decide other than based on price? I’m going to try and help you figure out what is the best baby monitor, based on the various features which are found on most makes and models of monitor.
First things first:
Video or audio only?
The decision between video and audio will be the biggest divider when narrowing down your chosen baby monitor. Really, it comes down to two things:
- Will you use the video functionality of the monitor regularly?
- Can you afford a video monitor?
When answering the first question, what I’m trying to make you think about it whether you will need that reassurance of being able to see your child on the screen? I know it’s difficult to decide until you are in the situation. My advice would be that if you have neurotic tendencies, you should steer clear of video monitors. All that you will do is sit there watching the video screen all evening, and that kind of defeats the purpose of having a monitor and being able to be in a different room to your sleeping child.
On the other hand, it can be a real bonus once you get to the point of trying to sleep train your child that you will know the exact moment that they went to sleep, rather than just hearing them go quiet on the audio monitor and taking that as your basis that they are asleep (when really they could be lying there staring at the ceiling for 30 minutes before they drift off).
Many friends have told me that they did indeed sit and watch the video monitor rather than the latest episode of Game of Thrones for the first few weeks of using a video monitor. I’m glad that wasn’t me!
You should also remember that most government health organisation’s around the world advise that your child should not be in a room alone when sleeping during the first 6 months. Having a video monitor doesn’t remove this requirement, just because you can see them on the screen. The whole point of keeping the child in the same room as you is to reduce the risk of SIDS by having their deep sleep cycles slightly disrupted by noises that you are making, and also as they will hear your breathing which will help them to regulate their own breathing. Watching them over a video monitor does not do either of these things, and so you are not reducing the risk of SIDS by having them in their own room and watching them over a video monitor.
Secondly, the cost of a video baby monitor is much higher than an audio only model. With audio only, you can pick up a good quality product for £20 if you are on a tight budget. For an equivalent standard of video monitor, you will be looking at spending closer to £60 or more. In fact, top of the range video monitors are more in the region of £150!
If you’re interested in an audio only baby monitor, you can read my review of the Chicco Top Digital Audio Baby Monitor.
Following on from the choice between video or audio, I would apply the same decision making process to whether you purchase a monitor with a sensor pad or not. The idea is that the sensor goes under the child’s mattress and if the child stops breathing (judged by the amount of vibrations made and received into the sensor pad), then an alarm goes off on the monitor. Supposedly, you would then rush in to your child and attempt CPR if indeed they have stopped breathing.
Please bear in mind that once your child is able to roll over at about 6 months of age, this feature will become useless. You will be forced to remove the sensor pad, because they will inevitably roll off it during the night and the alarm will keep waking you up. Before 6 months of age, it’s not advised to leave your child in a room unattended whilst they sleep, because of the risk of SIDS, therefore you shouldn’t need to use the sensor then either. Reiterating my video vs audio discussion point, having a sensor pad may just turn you into a neurotic mess.
Similar to video monitors, you should also bear in mind that the cost of buying a monitor that comes with a sensor pad vastly increases the minimum price you will pay for a high quality item. You can read my review of the Angelcare AC401 Movement and Sound Baby Monitor, which comes highly recommended.
Digital or analogue
I’m not talking about a digital vs analogue monitor display here, I’m talking about the signal type. What’s the difference? With analogue, you will get a more flowing and accurate representation of the real sound, whereas with digital the transmission is in steps. The frequency and accuracy of the transmission means that this won’t really be noticeable though on an everyday baby monitor. The thing that you will notice, is that digital baby monitors give a much clearer broadcast of noise, with little or no interference.
You can’t really find many analogue baby monitors these days, but I would urge you to check that your monitor is digital anyway as you’ll find it can just sit silently whilst your baby is quiet. With an analogue baby monitor you will likely be able to hear that that constant hum of some kind of interference from the transmission.
Almost every monitor will come with a built in thermometer, and if yours doesn’t then I would seriously reconsider spending the extra £5 to buy a model which does incorporate a thermometer. Once you get to know how hot or cold your baby is, you will come to rely on that thermometer as a really quick guide to figuring out their bedclothes each night; part of our bedtime routine now is to go upstairs and turn on the monitor to check the temperature of my son’s room.
When you stay away from home, this thermometer will become an invaluable tool for the same reason. You’ll always know how hot or cold somewhere is compared to your child’s room at home if you take the monitor with you as you are using the same measuring device. We’ve found our monitor’s thermometer to be accurate, it’s always within 1 degree of any other thermometer we’ve tested it against, and I curse the days that we stay away from home and rely on somebody else’s thermometer!
I cannot begin to stress how much you will prefer a portable monitor receiver. I can’t believe they even sell monitors which need to be plugged into the wall to function. You might wonder why I’m saying this. You probably sit in the same room every evening to watch tv, and would be able to hear the baby cry if you wander out of the room for 5 minutes to use the bathroom.
What about during the daytime? Once you’ve got through the phase of needing to sleep every time baby sleeps, you will come to relish naptimes as your bit of freedom during the day. When I say “freedom”, it will probably mean it’s the only time you get to do your chores around the house. So having a portable monitor means that you can happily go into the garden to hang out your laundry, then wander back in and make yourself a sandwich, then go through to the living room to eat, then back into the kitchen to load the dishwasher etc. You’re not tied to always having to be able to hear that monitor, since you can simply take it with you in your pocket. This brings me onto my next two points…
Whilst a huge range is not really needed for most parents (unless you live on a mansion estate with 20 hectares), I would advise you to think about how far you would require the range to be to walk down to the end of your garden. As I mentioned just, during naptime, you want to be able to pop outside to hang out your washing.
Take the manufacturer’s stated range with a pinch of salt. In the same way that your car claims it can do 60mpg, remember they are talking about the range when tested in idealistic conditions, with no walls in between. Our monitor states it can reach up to 300m range, yet when I’m out in my back garden, probably only about 40m away from the transmitting unit, the receiver does drop the signal every now and again – there’s a floor and 3 solid brick walls in between the transmitter and receiver after all.
Visual indicator / vibrate mode
Most monitors come with a visual indicator, so if you don’t want to use the monitor on a loud audio setting but can keep it within your peripheral vision, then it will light up when you baby cries. Some even come with a vibrate mode – which can be put to perfect use if you carry the monitor in your back pocket whilst vacuuming, as an example.
Personally, we don’t rely on this feature very often, but it’s come in useful quite frequently.
I don’t class any of these as essentials, but just a few things to look out for, and think about whether you would use them often:
- Talk back function – once your child is older and can understand that you are speaking to them through the monitor, this gives you a mode to use the monitor as a walkie talkie and have a two way conversation with your child.
- Nightlight – having a built in nightlight can mean you have one less device to purchase when your child hits the “Mummy, I’m scared of the dark” phase.
- Lullabies – some monitors come with preset lullabies that you can use to soothe your child to sleep. Some even come with an audio jack so that you could plug in your own phone/ipod/mp3 player.
Everyone will have their own preferences when it comes to baby monitors. For instance, I think I’m the only one out of my group of 8 friends that went for audio only, but I’m happy with the model that I have as it came with so many of the extra features I’ve listed above.
The particular monitor which we use has been reviewed in my Chicco Top Digital Audio Baby Monitor Review, and I will be adding further reviews in the forthcoming weeks after borrowing some different makes and models from my friends. Please check back for more reviews in the future months.
The best strategy would be to decide on a budget that you are willing to spend, and then narrow it down to a particular model using the criteria I’ve listed above.
If you have any questions or thoughts on this buying guide, please comment below. If you like the article please share with your friends and come back soon for more!