Baby Wearables: The Next Big Thing in “Smart” Parenting?

With the seemingly endless variety of smart wearables out there, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, not only by the options available but also by the data produced. What does all the data mean, how is it applied, where does it go, and does it really improve your life? Or just further complicate it? Compound all of these questions with the fact that today’s wearables aren’t just tracking you, they’re also tracking your baby. We’ve already seen Huggies’ TweetPee, a wetness sensor that clips onto diapers and wirelessly connects with an app, Tweeting at parents when a diaper needs changing. And diaper alerts are just the tip of the wearable iceberg.

The Owlet Smart Sock transmits your baby's vitals to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
The Owlet Smart Sock transmits your baby's vitals to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
The Owlet Smart Sock transmits your baby’s vitals to your smartphone via Bluetooth.

With the seemingly endless variety of smart wearables out there, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, not only by the options available but also by the data produced. What does all the data mean, how is it applied, where does it go, and does it really improve your life? Or just further complicate it? Compound all of these questions with the fact that today’s wearables aren’t just tracking you, they’re also tracking your baby.

We’ve already seen Huggies’ TweetPee, a wetness sensor that clips onto diapers and wirelessly connects with an app, Tweeting at parents when a diaper needs changing. And diaper alerts are just the tip of the wearable iceberg.

Now there are baby wearables that can track everything from an infant’s breathing, movement, and sleep position to the temperature, humidity, and noise and light levels of the baby’s environment. New York-based MonBaby monitors a baby’s vitals by way of a button that snaps onto clothing. Sensible Baby and Mimo, both out of New England, are sensors that pair with smart onesies. Sproutling is a smart ankle band, and Owlet a smart sock. Most are available for pre-order now, and in 2015 we’re sure to see even more options pop up on the market.

These wearables connect with apps that gather and organize data into insights, sending notifications and more urgent alerts to parents. By automating the alerts, they offer overtired parents the promise of more sleep and greater peace of mind. But while parents might feel assured such wearables can protect their babies against threats like sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), critics warn parents not to be fooled, as Time reports. None of these wearables, critics point out, are FDA-approved. The companies behind them, though, say they’ve never claimed otherwise. They acknowledge their products are not medical devices and assert their customers know that. Still, critics worry advertising that uses language like “alerts you if something appears wrong,” as Owlet’s does, is confusing and capitalizes on parents’ fears, offering them a false sense of security that could end up being more harmful than helpful.

Other critics are raising different concerns over how a baby’s data can be used by the companies collecting it. Some pledge they’ll keep the data private, while others say they’d like to share it with medical researchers, but only if parents opt in and only anonymously. But as The New York Times reminds us, “[I]t’s the early days. Those policies could change.”

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