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Doctors Say No to This Popular Baby Safety Device

Photograph by Twenty20

Doctors want new parents to know that "smart" clothing for babies is really kind of dumb. Onesies, socks and sleep sacks with monitors are causing unnecessary panic for parents and also leading them to do the unthinkable: wake a sleeping baby.

Sensors built into clothing are supposed to monitor babies' breathing and heart rate. Any abnormalities send out an alarm to parents. But the sensors are unreliable, sending out so many false alarms that they're waking parents, rattling their nerves and causing them to do tests on them to make sure their kid is still alive. (They are.)

Dr. Christopher Bonafide, a doctor with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and lead author of an editorial in the Jan. 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, reminds readers that these vital-sign monitors haven't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There's also zero evidence showing that these devices are able to prevent potential deaths.

"There's not a role for these devices in the care of healthy infants," Bonafide writes.

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A WebMD report on these sleep monitoring devices and Bonafide's editorial illustrates the problem. A parent, who bought the $250 Owlet sock monitor, brought her baby in to be checked after the alarm had sounded, indicating a drop in the baby's oxygen level. The baby was fine, of course, and doctors know that sometimes babies experience sudden declines in their blood oxygen levels. The fluctuations are normal, Bonafide writes.

Kids also kick and roll over, which can jostle the monitor and send off a false alarm. Parents who already wake up for the baby several times a night have their sleep interrupted constantly with the addition of the monitor.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against these monitors for healthy infants, including for SIDS prevention. Their main concern is the lack of evidence that the devices work.

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Dr. Rachel Moon, who chairs the Academy's Task Force on SIDS, said her colleagues worry parents will use these monitors in place of safe sleeping positions (putting babies down on their backs), thinking the monitor will indicate if breathing becomes an issue. The products are not allowed to claim they prevent SIDS. However, ads for the monitors claim these devices will let parents know if something is wrong.

"These companies ... have gone straight to market," Bonafide said. "And so the public actually doesn't know anything about the accuracy of the devices or safety of these devices."

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