Pediatrician Sounds Alert on Wearable Baby Monitors

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Unregulated and expensive wearable devices -- designed to send alerts if a baby stops breathing or his or her heart stops beating -- have only an "illusory" benefit, a British pediatrician says.

In a Nov. 18 article in The BMJ, David King, clinical lecturer in pediatrics at the University of Sheffield, says those devices "have no proved use in safeguarding infants or detecting health problems, and they certainly have no role in preventing [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome]." King also says health care professionals "should not recommend these products to reduce parents' fear of SIDS but should instead focus on interventions that have been proved to work, such as encouraging parents to put infants on their back to sleep."

Owlet Measures Vital Signs

King took particular aim at Owlet, a "smart sock" in development that uses pulse oximetry, a non-invasive way of measuring heart rate and oxygen levels. Owlet, which slips over a newborn's foot, monitors the baby's vital signs and can send an alert to a parent's smartphone when vital signs drop from normal ranges.

Kings says companies making these wearables are feeding off fears of SIDS, given as the reason for the deaths of 4,000 children in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Owlet CEO Kurt Workman says the device does not claim to prevent SIDS, but merely promises to provide peace of mind for new parents. "Every parent checks on their baby to make sure they're OK," he told DailyFinance. "Our devise will tell you if your baby stops breathing. Here's something that can let you sleep easier, for if something were to change, you would be alerted."

The $249 Owlet is expected to hit the market in the next three or four months. Its website, which Workman says is changing every day, does not yet caution consumers that the device is not a safeguard against SIDS -- a chief concern for King.

"Manufacturers should place prominent disclaimers at the point of sale to emphasize that they are not medical devices and that no evidence shows that they reduce the risk of SIDS or have any other health benefits," King says in the article.
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