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Supporters hope modern baby monitors might prevent sudden infant death syndrome. Critics are doubtful. Who’s right?
EACH YEAR IN THE United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1,300 infants die from sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. It’s a leading cause of death for babies born without an obvious medical condition, and it is devastating in its particulars: Parents put a seemingly healthy infant down to sleep and come back to find that the baby has died. Most infants who die of SIDS are between 1 and 4 months old.
“The grief responses are especially severe,” said Richard Goldstein, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital who works with SIDS families. “They’re especially severe because it’s small, small children at a dependent age. And it’s especially severe because there’s no true explanation.”
In recent years, however, some researchers and parents have hoped that increasingly sophisticated monitoring technologies might provide a crucial edge against an otherwise vexing syndrome. Monitoring sleeping infants for signs of cardiac or respiratory distress, the thinking goes, might offer warning signals for parents — and even let them intervene in the rare event that a baby begins to die.
Such hopes have helped to fuel a burgeoning market for high-tech baby monitors — often colloquially called SIDS monitors. These include devices like the Owlet Smart Sock, a Bluetooth-enabled sensor-equipped fabric sleeve, compact enough to slip over an infant’s tiny foot. When worn properly, the Utah-based health technology company suggests, the $299 garment will feed real-time data to parents’ phones on their baby’s heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and sleep patterns. Snuza, a South African company, makes a series of vital-data monitors that can clip to an infant’s diaper. Such monitors alarm when they detect a drop in a baby’s breathing or blood oxygen levels, and to date, each company has sold hundreds of thousands of units worldwide.
And yet, some scientists say, there is one thing that high-tech monitoring has not been proven to do: prevent SIDS.