The Overmonitored Nursery

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One evening a few days after we brought baby Ella home from the hospital, my husband, Dave, walked into the bedroom carrying what looked to be a tiny neon Grecian sandal.

“It’s a smart sock,” he said, as our wee addition made pterodactyl sounds in her bassinet. “It’ll link to our phones and alert us if her heart rate slows or her oxygen level plummets.”

Dave is a tech entrepreneur who spends off hours trolling futurist websites, envisioning a world in which self-driving cars deliver you lab-grown meat while an earbud simultaneously translates a conversation between you and 14 far-flung individuals.

I considered Ella, who, at 5 days old, had the size, shape and communication level of a hoagie, and thought, Finally! One of Dave’s weird cutting-edge gadgets I can get behind! I undid her swaddle, strapped the tiny sock, called the Owlet Smart Sock, to her tiny foot, redid her swaddle, checked my phone for her oxygen level, which registered an encouraging 98 percent, and drifted off, musing about the missing 2 percent.

Cut to: an hour later. A piercingly shrill electronic version of “Hush Little Baby” blares through our room as a blue neon light strobes frantically. I leap out of bed in a panic. I check on Ella. She is in a deep sleep, breathing fine. Dave and I finally locate the source of the sound and light show — the “base station” that communicates with the sock. Turns out it had lost connection to our shoddy Wi-Fi and was just letting us know, in its earsplitting, alarming way.

That incident probably took years off my life. After another wee-hours-of-the-morning baby rave, I unplugged the thing and shoved it in the closet.

Because I’m married to someone in the industry, gadgets often make an appearance in our house in the spirit of research. Not long ago, Dave came home with a Nest camera, technically a security camera that has been widely co-opted by parents who appreciate that it live-streams crisp HD video to their phones, alerts their phones whenever there is “activity in the nursery” and, for $10 a month, stores 10 days of video footage in the cloud.

After weeks of being notified at work when Ella was crying or moving around (read: being a baby) and hours sunk addictively scrolling in fast-forward to see her move around in her sleep, it dawned on me that all this technology, which purportedly calms agitated parents, actually agitates them more. This goes for the more cutting-edge gadgets that monitor vital signs, but is equally apparent in straight up video monitors, some of which will now sync up with Amazon’s new video-enabled Echo Show.

“No parent is going to say ‘No’ to a product that positions itself as standing between your child and death,” Alexis Dubief, the author of Precious Little Sleep, a blog that deals with all things baby sleep-related that had kept me entertained and informed during Ella’s newborn phase, told me one morning when I reached her by phone. “You’re eating beans and rice for a month and you can’t afford heat, but that’s fine.” Ms. Dubief’s main concerns with these gadgets? Whether or not the information they transmit is a) accurate or b) actionable. “I want to know, can I apply this information in some meaningful way, or is it just noise?” she said.

Monitoring is a major category in baby tech. The POMO baby tracker ($119) not only notifies you when your child has moved outside of a “safe 15 meter distance,” but also monitors your baby’s temperature, so that, according to its website, “you will always know if the blanket slips off” — a piece of information you’d also know, presumably, by seeing the blanket not on your child. If temperature monitoring happens to be your jam, there’s a whole spate of new products to choose from. Take the FeverFrida ($69.99), part of an ever-growing line of Frida products that includes a NoseFrida (which allows devoted parents to suck snot out of tiny nostrils) and Windi the Gas Passer (I’ll let you extrapolate). The TempTraq patch, placed under the baby’s arm, takes his temperature every four seconds and pings your phone if something is up.

These hyper monitors join myriad others that record your baby’s every move, from how much he is drinking while breast-feeding (Momsense’s sensor, affixed to the baby’s throat, counts swallows) to precisely how many minutes of sleep she’s getting a night. The Nanit watches your baby’s movements at night and uses computer vision to spit out an algorithmically generated sleep score each morning. “As if I need an algorithm to tell me whether or not my kid has slept well,” one mom of three scoffed.

So, is all this info just noise? I called my pediatrician, Dr. Michael Yaker, a founding partner of Westside Pediatrics in Manhattan and a faculty member of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“In general, do the vital signs of healthy babies need to be monitored regularly? Absolutely not,” he told me. “If it makes a parent more comfortable with a situation, fine, but I wouldn’t make any actionable medical decisions based on it.” And in the cases of unhealthy babies? Preemies who are leaving the neonatal intensive care unit, perhaps?

“If your baby needs to be on a monitor regularly tracking vital signs, your baby is likely not ready to be discharged from the hospital,” he said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, according to Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, professor of pediatrics at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in New Jersey and an author of the A.A.P.’s most recent SIDS policy paper. “We don’t recommend products that are specifically sold to reduce the risk of SIDS because we think it’s false advertising,” she said.

So, when it comes to noise, a resounding yes.

And yet: Most of the friends I called, all with healthy babies, admitted that monitoring their monitors had become a habit they couldn’t break.

“I hate the Nest,” one told me, “but I can’t look away. I spent the entire time on our first date in weeks staring at the phone. What’s more boring than watching your baby sleep?” Once, when scrolling back through her child’s day, she inadvertently caught her mother-in-law at the house, even though she was supposed to be on another continent, causing her anxiety level to shoot through the roof.

Pamela Druckerman, author of “Bringing Up Bébé— part memoir about being an expat raising children in Paris, part anthropological study of French child-rearing — made me think we should all take a page out of the playbook française.

“The French aren’t against baby monitors, but they’re suspicious of extremes — including extreme surveillance of otherwise healthy kids,” she wrote in an email. “They understand that, at the beginning of the baby’s life, you’re setting the tone for family life going forward. If you start out by tracking the baby’s every breath, what comes next?”