There are two basic types of baby monitor: audio and video. Audio monitors operate within a selected radio frequency band to send sound from the baby’s room to the receiver. Video monitors use a small wall- or table-mounted camera that transmits images to a TV-set-like monitor.
Still another way to keep tabs on baby is with movement sensors, under-the-mattress pads that alert you when his or her movement completely stops for more than 20 seconds. While some parents may find movement sensors reassuring, bear in mind that they’re not medical devices and shouldn’t be used in place of prescribed heart or breathing monitors to detect conditions such as sleep apnea. Nor should you rely on them to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, the cause of which is still unknown.
The major brands are BebeSounds/Unisar, Evenflo, First Years, Fisher-Price, Graco, Safety 1st , and SBC/Phillips.
Price Range: Baby monitors we tested ranged in price from $20 to $50 for audio monitors, up to $150 for audio/video monitors, and around $100 for movement sensors.
A baby monitor’s challenge is to transmit recognizable sound over a distance with minimal interference from other wireless devices. Here are some additional features to look for when buying a monitor:
Compact parent unit. The smallest parent units are about the size of a fat wallet. You can use the integral belt clip to free your hands, but the antenna may poke you.
Extra parent unit. This unit can stay in, say, your bedroom while the other is carried about the house.
Battery for the child unit. All of the child units we tested can be plugged into the wall for power, but four also can use either 9-volt, AAA, or AA alkaline batteries (not included). All the parent units have this option. The battery option is useful in the event of a power failure and also allows you to take the unit where there are no outlets, such as outdoors.
Rechargeable batteries included. This money-saving feature is provided with the parent unit of some models. You can buy rechargeable or alkaline batteries for the other parent units.
Low-battery indicator. A light or tone warns of the need to recharge or replace batteries in the parent unit. Some models also have indicators for the child unit.
The following features are nice but not necessary:
Intercom. Pushing a button and speaking into the parent unit lets you reassure your baby that you’re on your way.
Video monitor. The Summer Infant monitor we tested has a video monitor, but its so-so picture quality limits its usefulness.
This feature works better in theory:
Finder feature. A model by The First Years promises to help you find a misplaced parent unit. Press a button on the child unit to make the parent unit beep. Unfortunately it doesn’t work if the lost unit has been switched off.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Performance differences. More money gets you more extras, not necessarily greater safety and security for your child.
Recommendations. Test an audio baby monitor in the store to see how it fits in your hand and how it feels when you clip it on. Video monitors continue to be pretty pricey. If you buy one, you may discover that an audio monitor is all you really need. Also use the following tips and Consumer Reports’ Ratings, available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers, to choose the best monitor for your needs.
Decide how much you want to monitor. The latest generation of baby monitors claims to allow the constant surveillance of baby’s every whimper, breath, and movement. For some parents, that’s reassuring. For others, such non-stop monitoring is nerve wracking. So keep in mind that a monitor isn’t a must-have. If you live in a small house or apartment or feel as though you’d like a break when your baby’s sleeping–which is legitimate–it’s O.K. to go monitorless.
Consider your home and lifestyle. In many situations you may appreciate a monitor with sounds and lights so you can also “see” your baby’s cries. If you’ll be taking business calls during naptime, you may want to be able to turn the sound down very low and rely on the lights. A video monitor can also serve the same purpose, but it’s very expensive and not very portable. Similarly, if you have a large house, you may want a monitor with two receivers rather than just one, although that can be a convenience in a small home as well. And, in general, look for monitors with features that make them easy to move about, such as a compact parent unit that clips onto your belt. (Try it on before buying, if possible; we found the antennas tend to poke the wearer.)
Choose between audio or audio/video. A good audio monitor will let you know whether your baby is awake or asleep, moving or stationary. Our tests showed only so-so picture quality from the one video monitor Consumer Reports rated. You can tell that your baby’s eyes are open, for example, but you can’t distinguish much detail.
Mind the frequency. None of the baby monitors Consumer Reports tested was immune from static. The closer your monitor’s frequency is to that of another device the more likely you’ll hear static or cross talk. You may reduce interference if your monitor lets you switch to a different channel within its frequency band, as do all the models Consumer Reports tested.
Consider your phone. Choose a monitor that operates in a different frequency band than your cordless phone. Most newer cordless phones are 2.4 gigahertz or 900 megahertz. If you have a 900 MHz cordless phone and a 900MHz monitor, they can interfere with each other.
Check the range. All the models Consumer Reports tested that claimed a signal-distance range met or exceeded it in our open-air test. Pick a model with an appropriate signal range for your home. Some home-construction materials, such as concrete and metal, can reduce the range, however.
Learn the return policy. Since you often can’t test monitors before you buy them (there usually aren’t display models available, and conditions in the store maybe very different from those in your home), learn the return policy of the store or Web site where you’re buying or registering. You’ll want to be able to take back a monitor in case you’re unhappy with it for whatever reason. (Common problems include static and interference from cordless phones or answering machines, even the ambient sounds of an air conditioner or a neighbor’s barking dog.)
Certification. Although as electrical products they’re Underwriters Laboratories-listed, no specific certification program exists for these products. Of course, as equipment that generates, uses, and can radiate radio-frequency energy, baby monitors have to comply with Part 15 of the FCC rules within the US. That means that the device may not cause harmful interference and must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation. A few models, amounting to about one million units, have been recalled in the late 90s and again in 2003. Problems have included faulty wiring that could pose a smoke and fire hazard as well as batteries that can rupture and irritate the skin.
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