A few years ago when I first heard that motion-detecting baby monitors existed I instinctively said, "We will be getting one of those." I know myself too well, and I knew that checking to see whether or not a future baby was breathing would keep me up throughout the night. So when the time came I added the gadget to our registry, and when we transitioned Natalie from her Pack N Play bassinet to her crib when she was 7 weeks old we finally had a chance to put the monitor to work. Now that she's almost 16 weeks old and she's spent the majority of her life (!) sleeping in her crib, I thought it was time to write about our baby monitor experiences.
We opted for the Angelcare Movement and Sound Monitor with Two Parent Units. Overall, I am really liking this product, though it has taken some trial and error in order to make it work in our home.
The entire monitor system comes in four parts: the blue sensor pad that goes in the crib; the nursery unit transmitter; and the two parent units that pick up signals from the nursery unit. I like that the parent units come with AC adapters so they can be plugged into an outlet, but they can also run on battery power. We tend to keep our parents units plugged in. One parent unit rests on my nightstand and really only gets unplugged if I need to take a shower while Natalie is in her crib (this is rare). The other parent unit is set up on our desk on the main level of our house. The only time this unit is unplugged is if I happen to be Just Dancing downstairs (less likely) or doing laundry downstairs (more likely). We have not yet replaced the 3 AAA batteries we installed in each unit, but we likely rely less on the battery feature than most families.
Part of the reason I like this monitor is the variety of options it provides. Parents can choose from three operational modes:
1) Sound and movement with "tic" feature on.
2) Sound and movement with "tic" feature off.
3) Sound only.
The nursery unit sits on the floor right below the crib.
Ever since we set up the monitor we've been using the Sound and Movement option with the "tic" feature turned off. Basically the "tic" feature causes the monitor to make a sound every time the baby moves. Movement includes breathing, hence the reason why this monitor is designed for parents like me who have a healthy fear of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). But, knowing that this monitor is designed to sound one alarm if it hasn't detected movement in 15 seconds or a continuous alarm if it hasn't detected movement in 20 seconds, we figured that the ticking was an unnecessary feature for our preferences.
Additionally, the monitor provides two different operational channels, A and B. There is a sensitivity dial so that you can make your monitor more or less sensitive to motion. There are volume controls on the parent units, and because the parent units also have lights that come on when they detect sound it is possible to operate the parent unit without sound. We've kept the volume on both parent units set at a medium level and let me assure you it is plenty loud, in case you have a fear of not hearing your baby via the monitor. (Well, if you're the mother you will be guaranteed to always hear your baby, but if you are the father you are biologically programmed to sleep through nearly all baby noises and likely your wife shaking you in the middle of the night.)
The first week we used the monitor I thought it was amazing. Then during week two while Matt was at work the alarm sounded while I was on the middle level of our home, so, nearly having a heart attack, I bolted to Natalie's room only to discover her quietly sleeping away. Somehow she slept through the alarm -- she must have been extra tired that day -- but I was totally freaked out. The next day we got two false alarms, both of which woke Natalie from her sleep. The false alarm that happened in the middle of the night first freaked me out and then just pissed me off, especially after it meant taking about an hour to get Natalie back to sleep.
At this point I was ready to return the monitor to Buy Buy Baby, but in a stroke of genius I decided to turn to the product manual first to see if I could troubleshoot. Fortunately for the monitor's sake but unfortunately for Natalie's interrupted sleep I quickly discovered that in our haste to install the monitor we had done so incorrectly. Starting on page 1 and repeating on nearly every page of the product manual it is explicitly states that if you do not have a solid crib base (i.e. one made of a slab of wood) you'll need to create your own solid crib base on which to place the sensor pad. The manufacturer recommends Masonite board, but I just grabbed a piece of foam board, the kind you used for high school science project displays, and put it on top of the metal base of the crib mattress.
A peak underneath the crib mattress, complete with my foam board solution for the sensor pad.
I worried that it would not be sturdy enough, given that it is not what the manufacturer recommends, but I am happy to report that since making that simple change we have only had one false alarm in nearly eight weeks. I wish we never got false alarms, but if the tradeoff for peace of mind is one false alarm every two months, I'll take it. I also figure that as Natalie gets older and the risk of SIDS decreases we might eventually use this monitor as a sound-only device.
Besides false alarms, another common complaint about this monitor is that it has feedback problems. Yes, this has been our experience too, but I think it comes down to finding the right place to position the parent units in your home. The parent unit that is almost always located on our desk on the main level never produces that annoying static noise.
The parent unit in our bedroom, though, is another story. The static feedback is substantial, but the good news is that because Matt likes to sleep with the fan on, the white noise of the fan drowns out the white noise of the monitor. I think we get a lot of feedback on the bedroom parent unit just because our house isn't that big and our room is not that far away from the nursery.
I will take the false alarms and the feedback interference for the peace of mind this monitor offers. I have never once gone into Natalie's nursery to make sure she's still breathing, and that seems like a huge accomplishment for my inclined-toward-fear nature. This monitor might be part of the reason I've been better at going with the flow of new parenting. This monitor is easy to use, provided it's installed properly, and it's easy to install properly, provided you actually read the directions. We did not buy the Angelcare Sound and Motion monitor that also has a video monitor component because we'd read plenty of negative reviews about the poor video quality. Instead, two weeks ago we set up a Foscam in the nursery, which is a webcam that we can control with a $5 app through our iPhones and iPad. I am in love with this new system that we have working side-by-side with our Angelcare monitor, and I'll write more about our experiences with this make-shift baby video monitor once we've tested it out a while longer.