As an advance practice nurse who has spent the majority of her nursing career caring for babies, I am often asked by expectant and new parents about the use of baby monitors. Parents want assurance that a monitor will alert them if their baby stops breathing and will prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
What Is SIDS?
SIDS is the unexpected death of a healthy baby between birth and 1 year of age with no known cause. For the death to be considered SIDS, a thorough review of the baby’s medical history is done, an autopsy is performed and a death scene investigation is done. When there is no reason found for the baby’s death, it is classified as a SIDS.
SIDS was once very common in the United States, but since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began their “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994, the number of babies dying from SIDS has dramatically dropped. Parents should always follow the ABC’s of safe sleep by placing their baby down Alone, on their Back and in their own Crib.
The number of babies dying from SIDS has also decreased because the classification of SIDS has changed. At one time all healthy infant deaths were classified as SIDS no matter the cause, but now there is better classifications with accidental suffocation, strangulation and asphyxiation being the leading causes of death.
What Role Do Baby Monitors Play in Preventing SIDS?
There are a variety of baby monitors available, including some that have a smartphone app. But, even with advanced technology, of the baby monitors that are currently available, none of them have been approved for the purpose of preventing SIDS or have gone through the same rigorous testing by the FDA that medical grade monitors do.
A study published in Journal of the American Medical Association in 2018 showed that baby monitors purchased by consumers do not accurately measure oxygen or heart rates. This is a problem, as these devices are expensive and are giving parents a false sense of security. The monitors can also have false alarms which can cause unnecessary anxiety and visits to the doctor or emergency room for a healthy baby.
If Monitors Aren’t Accurate, What Is the Best Way to Protect My Sleeping Baby?
The best way to prevent against SIDS deaths as well as death from accidental suffocation, strangulation and asphyxiation is to follow the AAP recommendations for safe sleep. The recommendations are:
Place your baby on their own sleep surface for every sleep. This sleep surface can be a safety approved crib, bassinet or play yard with a firm mattress and tight fitting sheet.
Place your baby on their back for every sleep.
Your baby should always sleep alone in their own bed. The baby’s bed should be in the parent’s room for at least the first 6 months of life but ideally for the first year of life.
No loose blankets, toys, or pillows should be in the baby’s bed. This includes pacifiers that have stuffed toys or blankets attached to them. These items become dangerous to a baby as they do not have the ability to move their nose away from an object like older children and adults do.
Offer a pacifier to the baby with every sleep. You do not need to replace if it falls out after the baby has fallen asleep.
Breastfeed your baby for the first 6 months of life, ideally for the first year.
Immunize your baby.
Do not smoke around your baby and if you do smoke, change your clothes before holding your baby as the smoke particles get into your clothing and are harmful to your baby.
Do not sleep with your baby. This includes in bed, on the sofa or in a chair. When adults fall asleep the baby can become wedged between the adult and other objects causing the baby to block their airway.
If you are pregnant
Get prenatal care
Do not smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs while pregnant
As new parents, you want to do all in your power to keep your baby safe and while baby monitors may seem like a good idea, in reality they will end up causing more anxiety than helping or preventing a SIDS death.
Gail A. Bagwell, DNP, APRN, CNS is a member of the Nationwide Children's Hospital Division of Neonatology team. She completed her undergraduate degree in nursing at West Virginia Wesleyan College, her master's in nursing at the University of Cincinnati and her doctor of nursing practice at Chatham University.
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