The high-tech business of parenting

From rubber ducks to vests with sensors, is technology feeding parental insecurities or providing real benefits?

 

We all have great intentions. “Oh no,” you say confidently. “My baby won’t be getting into technology until they’re old enough to handle it. Until then, they’ll play only with wooden toys, BPA-free rattles and dolls woven from organic hemp.”

You look at parents around you trying to distract their toddler with brightly coloured apps on an iPad or smartphone and think that will never be me.

That’s before the theoretical baby becomes an actual one and you realise that the reason they’re weakly handing over their €700 iPhone to a sticky, dribbling toddler is because being able to eat a meal in peace for at least five minutes, while their toddler doesn’t do a Houdini number on their highchair restraints and dangle themselves over the edge while holding on with their feet, is worth far, far more.

Fresh market

Android

No doubt some of that will include high tech baby monitors that allow you to interact with your baby from anywhere in the world or toys that will help teach them their alphabet and numbers. Baby tech is a booming business.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year, the biggest electronics show of the year, there was an entire section dedicated to this growing industry.

The obsession with technology starts before they’re even born. From the time you decide that there’s a possibility you might want a baby, there are apps to track your fertility and every stage of your pregnancy.

One of the most recent developments is a bluetooth-enabled pregnancy test. Made by First Response, the test uses an app on your smartphone to help deliver the good, or bad, news. It coaxes you through the process of taking the test – telling you if you’ve successfully managed to pee on the stick – and keeps you entertained while you wait the three minutes for the result.

If you’ve told the app that you are actively trying to get pregnant, a negative test will lead you to fertility tips. If you are pregnant, it will give you some health tips.

And, in the meantime, it keeps you entertained with Buzzfeed videos and other distractions.

All too much

However, once you’ve got the positive result, there are more products to choose from. Belli, for example, is a small lightweight sensor aimed at pregnant women. At the moment, it can be used to monitor exactly what’s going on in there – contractions or Braxton Hicks – but the company is promising much more to come.

There are some products that are more practical for parents. The Mamaroo is probably one of the most advanced baby chairs you’ll see on the market, and it has a price tag to match, but some parents swear by it.

It’s programmable so you can rock your baby in different patterns, depending on their personal preferences and whether or not you want to keep them entertained or lull them to sleep.

It’s designed to mimic a parent’s movement – no vibrations here, just a range of rocking motions – although the addition of bluetooth control and the ability to play your own music through the seat may be a step too far for some.

Baby monitors

The current crop of internet-connected devices allow you to watch your child through a password-protected internet-connected monitor as long as you have access to the accompanying app or website.

There are monitors out there that will watch a child’s movement through the night and alert parents if it appears that they have stopped breathing.

The latest crop of baby monitors are getting even more sophisticated. Designed to be worn on the child’s body, they will alert parents if there is no normal movement detected.

Owlet is a baby monitor that attaches to your child via a sock, monitoring their heart rate and breathing. It uses a pulse oximeter among other sensors to pinpoint a problem, and communicates with a base station located in the baby’s room. That information is then fed to the parent’s smartphone app. The sensor is designed to fit babies up to 18 months, getting new parents through the most anxious time.

It’s certainly resonating with parents. The company sells 4,000-5000 units each month in the US.

Because of data-protection guidelines, Owlet can’t legally sell the devices in Europe yet, but representatives said they were hoping to get the product to Europe in the next six months to a year.

Mimo Smart Baby monitor is another option for worried parents who want something more reliable than the standard video monitor. The device clips onto a special baby vest, letting you know how your child is breathing, their body position, how active they are, if they’re even asleep and, if so, their temperature.

You get a nightly report on your infant’s sleep – probably more than you know about your own – and you can make changes if necessary.

There’s more coming down the line. At CES, there was Hatch, a smart baby changing mat that helps you find out how much your baby is eating (aimed mainly at breastfeeding mothers who have to play somewhat of a guessing game at mealtimes) and growing, and the Starling, a device that tracks the number of words your child says each day, and offers advice in expanding that vocabulary if needed.

Fu

n element There is a more fun element to baby tech too. Take Edwin the Duck. Yes, he’s a rubber duck with a frankly astonishing price tag

of almost $100 (€90.66) but he’s more than just a floating bath toy. He’s an interactive toy that works with iPad apps, a bath thermometer, a night light and a bluetooth speaker, so he’s earning his premium price tag.

But what about the more traditional toy brand names? You might think of Fisher Price as the provider of much of the multicoloured plastic you trip over regularly in your house, but the company has been branching out and is just one of the firms seeking to turn our children into coding experts before they’re toilet trained.

The Code a Pillar is a toy that not only is a bit of fun for kids to play with but will also help induct them into the world of coding in a fun way.

That may seem a bit like hothousing your toddler, but you’d never really notice that’s what you’re doing.

If it all seems a bit much, think about their future as a tech entrepreneur and the potential millions they could make you before they’re out of college.

Of course, parents need to decide for themselves if any of these devices are truly worth the money they are spending.

There is a danger that some of the new baby tech products will feed more into parental insecurities than providing any real benefit. But one thing is becoming clear. There is no escaping the march of technology, not even for the youngest members of society.

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