Swapna Krishna

May 20th 2022

Health Technology for New Parents Can Both Help and Harm


The baby business is booming: The market for baby products will grow by $4 billion over the next few years. It’s easy to understand why — in an age of interconnectedness, people are increasingly turning to health technology to ease the difficult transition of welcoming a newborn into the home.

Technology often creates as many new problems as it solves, and smart baby devices are no exception. From monitors to breast pumps to bottle warmers and sterilizers, these devices can make life easier but can also introduce new challenges. Here’s a rundown of the new technology aimed at new and expecting parents, as well as how they can help (and a few forward-looking concerns).

Smart Baby Monitors Ease Minds

Smart baby monitors are changing the way parents care for their infants. Gone are the days of tiny, grainy screens and scratchy audio. Now, baby monitors such as Nanit come with sophisticated apps that allow new and expecting parents to watch and record video, receive real-time notifications about movement or crying, and speak to their infant or play music through a phone.

Some smart devices go even further: Companies such as Owlet and Pico have health technology wearables that allow parents to monitor an infant’s sleep and breathing. They’ll even notify parents and caregivers if the baby appears to have stopped breathing. Many saw these devices as more trouble than they’re worth, especially with their notorious and frequent false alarms.

It’s also important to note that these health technology monitors aren’t regulated as medical devices. The Owlet Smart Sock, for instance, was issued a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration classifying it as a medical device because it provides heart rate and blood oxygen information. The company disagreed but has since pulled them from the market and will soon debut a new sleep monitoring solution.

These monitors also come with privacy concerns — a seemingly ongoing and eternal struggle in this new age of constant connectedness. One such example was the popular smart monitor iBaby. Vulnerabilities allowed intruders to download video recordings and even control the camera. This isn’t limited to one brand or set of smart monitors; the entire spectrum of these devices is known to have security flaws, which may give parents pause before using them.

Baby Bottle Tech

Whether parents are using formula, breastfeeding or some combination of the two, technology can help out with that, too. Smart formula makers such as the Baby Brezza and Burabi make dispensing that late-night bottle as easy as any K-cup machine. Brands also now offer smart bottle warmers that can be controlled through an app to ensure parents aren’t overheating bottles (or forgetting to unplug the machine because of a sleepy haze).

Parents don’t need to sterilize pacifiers and bottles between every feeding, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends doing so once a day, especially when an infant is under 3 months old, if they were premature or if they have a weakened immune system. There’s health technology to help here, too, whether you want to sterilize with UV light or hot water.

The question is whether these items are really necessary. The baby industry is growing steadily — research shows the market for smart baby bottle warmers and sterilizers alone will be worth over $200 million by the end of the decade. It’s good business, certainly, but is it necessary? New and expecting parents are certainly vulnerable to marketing, especially when they’re frantically searching for anything that will make their lives easier in those sleep-deprived newborn days. If these devices accomplish that goal, they’re worth the money. But the question is whether being able to connect these devices to an app, or having a one-touch button accomplish the task, is any easier than just accomplishing the feat manually.

Advances in Nursing

Breastfeeding parents also have new technology options at their disposal. One of the big complaints about pumping is that it’s dreadfully inconvenient, and the devices are bulky. Enter the new wave of smart breast pump technology. Pumps like the Willow and Elvie offer easy, hands-free solutions that work with a simple nursing bra, allowing busy parents to pump on the go. Both have sleek apps that allow for more information about milk production and pumping behavior.

However, these technologies can also come with drawbacks. Breastfeeding can be challenging, even at the best of times, and advanced technology can’t fix all of a parent’s problems or provide needed support when things are hard.

Health and Wellness, Baby Style

One of the biggest pains in the rectum (quite literally, for a baby) is taking an infant’s temperature when they’re sick. It can be a panicky process, especially if parents are trying to get a reading fast. Smart thermometers, such as those made by Withings, can alleviate some of this stress. It’s always better to take temperatures rectally for infants, of course, but at least a smart thermometer can let you know if there’s a problem or not.

The wave of baby smart devices also extends to scales and noise machines. Hatch makes a changing pad that doubles as a scale for parents to track their baby’s weight, and connected white noise machines and nightlights are becoming more popular. It seems that wherever parents look, there’s a device (along with an app) to solve their problems.

Concerns Around Baby Tech

It’s clear we’re just at the beginning of the wave of smart technology aimed at parents and infants. This technology can fill gaps in the market and play a critical role in the safety and security of people who are expecting a child, but there are also larger concerns to be aware of.

With privacy taking the forefront in many tech discussions, it’s important to pay attention to the security of these devices. Not only can they provide a window into your home and activities, but some can also give intruders access to your child. What’s more, many of these smart connected devices collect all kinds of data, and it’s sometimes unclear what companies will do with it.

There’s also the concern that having this much data about an infant at a parent’s fingertips can actually increase anxiety. When is there too much data? Do parents really need to catalog every breath, every roll, every sleep cycle? When does tracking increase anxiety, rather than relieve it? The sheer amount of data can be detrimental to parents’ mental health.

Concerns aside, it’s clear this technology can provide amazing and unexpected benefits to tired, wrung-out new parents just trying to survive the newborn days. A lot of what parents are paying for with this smart technology is reassurance and convenience, and many are happy and eager to pay for that.

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