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Infant SIDS monitors: Causing more harm than good?

For parents of newborns, few things are scarier than SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It's the leading cause of death in babies. Parents can reduce the risk by following the safe-sleep guidelines and other protective measures recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, because SIDS ultimately can't be explained or predicted, there's no way to completely prevent it.

Or is there?

Home monitors for "peace of mind"

A new wave of home monitors gives parents the ability to monitor baby's movements, heart rate and blood oxygen levels. Many of these devices even connect with smartphone apps to provide reassurance at a glance.

Because they're not reviewed by the FDA, however, these monitors can't actually claim to prevent SIDS. They instead focus on offering peace of mind. But many pediatricians are concerned that they may instead do just the opposite.

Are they really reliable?

The monitors, which are relatively new to the market, have exploded in popularity in recent years. Yet there's no research to support their accuracy or effectiveness. Many of the models are prone to triggering false alarms, which can send parents rushing to the emergency room, potentially leading to unnecessary interventions that carry their own set of risks. Even true positives - involving incidents such as temporary lapses in breathing - might not be clinically significant.

Parents also may be tempted to rely too much on these monitors. As a result, they may neglect proven methods of reducing SIDS risks, such as keeping the crib clear of loose bedding and always putting the baby to sleep on his or her back. Recognizing this problem, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents not to depend on home monitors as a SIDS-prevention strategy.

Experts also question if, heaven forbid, the monitors did signal a life-threatening event, would parents be able to make a difference? They would have to be trained in infant CPR. But even then, it's possible that a swift response wouldn't be enough to revive the baby.

Making up your own mind

Ultimately, like so many aspects of parenting, it comes down to a personal decision. Each family must make their own informed choice about the potential value and risks of these devices. For some, the peace of mind is well worth it. Just don't let that peace of mind lead to complacency when it comes to more surefire, research-backed strategies for keeping your little one safe.

Do these increasingly popular devices cause more harm than good?

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