Kids Corner


Baby Doodads:
For The Slow and The Challenged?




I acquired my first piece of baby-related technology two months ago, just a few hours after the birth of my son.

My wife, baby and I were all still in the hospital, and the baby - who looked a bit less confused than my wife and I about this new state of affairs - seemed to need help getting to sleep. After a bit of trial and error, I found that he appeared to be comforted by a gentle, continuous shushing sound near his ear. But how long could I keep shushing? Wasn't there some easier way?

I then did what everyone of a certain age does when looking for a quick fix to a difficult problem: I pulled out my phone.

Within a few minutes, I'd downloaded a $1.99 iPhone app called White Noise. It was a godsend. I held my son, Khalil, in one hand and the iPhone in the other, just a few inches from his ear; the background drone filled the room, and soon he was gliding into sleep.

Suddenly, I wondered if perhaps this baby thing wouldn't be as difficult as I'd feared.

The baby can't sleep? He's crying and you don't know why? There must be some gadget or app for that, right?

In fact, you'll find both an app and a gadget that claim to decode your baby's cries. The app, called the Cry Translator, costs $9.99 in the iPhone App Store, while the gadget, the Why Cry Baby Analyzer, sells for $39.99 at, an online electronics store, among other Web outlets. But don't bother with either one. At least in my experience, these cry analyzers are at best novel curiosities, and at worst - when your baby is screaming uncontrollably and you're at wit's end - frustrating time-wasters.

I tried each one on Khalil many times; often they failed to give any diagnosis, and when they did they were clearly wrong - calling him bored when he was obviously hungry, or sleepy when he was awake and happy. One of the rare times the Why Cry gadget seemed to be right was when it announced that someone nearby was annoyed.

It wasn't the baby.

These cry decoders are just two of the baby-tech items I've tried out recently. My house is a menagerie of motorized baby seats, noisemakers, monitors and other doodads that promise to bring digital sophistication to a job that has reduced adults to tears forever. Some came in handy, I found, but babies are a fickle, ever-changing lot, and what works one time seems hopeless the next. As a gadget fiend, I'm used to evaluating technology in controlled settings, but there is nothing controlled about life with baby.

Take, for instance, the mamaRoo, a most advanced bouncing chair. The mamaRoo (about $185) looks striking; constructed out of rounded white plastic and a colorful, washable canvas seat, it looks like something from a 1960s space movie - maybe the pod Charlton Heston rode in "Planet of the Apes."

The mamaRoo offers several programmed rocking patterns that its manufacturer, 4Moms, says emulate the rhythms of real parents. The seat also plays several soothing sounds, and doubles as a dock for your digital music player. Select a rocking pattern - "tree swing," "car ride," "rock-a-bye," and so on - set the speed, choose your sounds, press start, and watch your baby drift off.

That's the theory, anyway. And when my wife and I placed Khalil in the mamaRoo for the first time, that is what happened. We chose "tree swing," and Khalil was swiftly off into deep sleep. Subsequent efforts, though, were less fruitful; we would place him in the chair and more often than not he'd go from indifferent to anxious to angry to screaming.

Why? Babies are difficult to interrogate; we can only guess. Maybe the mamaRoo didn't bounce quickly enough for Khalil; its fastest setting seems a bit slower than my own arm-rocking speed, and Khalil seems slightly happier in a traditional baby swing, which rocks much faster than the mamaRoo. Or maybe the mamaRoo's design offended his classical aesthetic sensibility. But I do hold out hope that our son will one day grow to love the mamaRoo (it would make for many cute videos), and it's possible that other babies accept it readily.

Given that a major selling point of baby tech is parental peace of mind, it is no surprise that baby monitors offer an astonishing number of features. Today's monitors don't just broadcast your baby's cries to another room - they also take the ambient temperature around the bed, alert you if the baby hasn't moved for a worrying number of seconds, transmit full-color video (even in the dark, using "night vision") and send their images across the Internet so you can use your laptop or your phone to check on Junior.

Of the half-dozen models I tried, my favorite entry-level monitor was the Philips Avent Basic with DECT technology (about $100). DECT is a transmission technology that digitally encrypts communications between the monitor and the receiver; this will prevent your neighbors with babies from hearing broadcasts from your monitor, and vice versa. I found the Avent able to detect nearly every sound in a large room, and transmit it across walls and other obstacles to the far end of the house.

The Angelcare Movement and Sound Monitor (about $140) is the next step up in the field. Besides relaying your baby's cries, it has a sensor pad, placed under the crib or bassinet mattress, that alerts parents when a baby has not moved for 20 seconds. It does not go off incessantly (the machine is sensitive enough to detect breathing) and is well suited to parents like me who cannot shake the paranoia that can come with caring for a new human being.

The $136 MobiCam Digital Wireless Video Monitor produced impressive images, even in a dark room, but I was not as happy with MobiCam's Internet kit, a $40 add-on that promised to broadcast my baby's video over my smartphone. In order to get Web connectivity, the MobiCam needed to be plugged into a computer, and I didn't find it convenient to keep my laptop always on and always near the baby. The Home & Away Digital Video Monitor ($190), which is made by the First Years and will not go on sale until next spring, had the same computer-hogging problem.

A better solution for Internet connectivity, I found, was a wireless security camera. For instance, the Lorex Wireless Easy Connect Network Camera has a built-in Wi-Fi chip; it can connect to your wireless network without a computer. As a result, it can beam video of your baby across the country or around the world - you can even watch him on your phone. At $250, the Lorex camera is a bit steep, but if you travel often and want to check in on your baby from afar, it's a very handy tool.

For me, though, the best baby gadgets were the simple ones. The Voice Activated Crib Light with Womb Sounds, a $15 device made by Munchkin and sold on ThinkGeek, does just what it says: it lights up and plays a soothing sound when your baby cries in the middle of the night. My son did not respond to it, but I suspect other little ones will. I was perhaps most fond of the Itzbeen Baby Care Timer, a handheld unit by Coast Innovations with several stopwatches for three important things parents need to keep track of: diaper changes, feedings, sleep.

When one of these events occurs, press a little button on the Itzbeen and it will reset the clock for that event. True, there are many iPhone apps that do what the Itzbeen does, but I found a dedicated device more convenient than a phone. And, at about $24, the Itzbeen is cheap.

If you've got a baby, you might want to get one.


[Courtesy: The New York Times]

November 25, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 27, 2010, 7:05 AM.

Since this is to do with babies, I thought I might share that there is now a baby drink available laced with garlic. It is not only healthy, but also useful to find the baby in the dark!

Comment on "Baby Doodads:
For The Slow and The Challenged?"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.