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The Verge claims baby tech sold on fear – oh reaallllly? Tell me more.

Trends in SIDS from the CDC

In a welcome to the baby tech party article, The Verge claims baby tech is sold based on fear, not practicality.

Really. No shit? It’s 2016 and companies been saying your baby will spontaneously combust without this that or the other since the invention of the window baby cage and room to room audio monitors and they just got around to this article? OK, I’m being a little dramatic here.

TL;DR Paul gets annoyed that The Verge writer lumps all baby tech into fear mongering (in the title) and questions the writer’s grasp of the words “medical device”.

Much like spare tires and jumper cables, most baby monitoring gadgets are absurdly useless and impractical until they’re not. Any SIDS monitor is completely and absolutely useless to slightly over 998 out of 1000 parents that have them, and companies are betting that you’ll pay a decent chunk to not be in the half of one percent that SIDS strikes.

For a $300 device that can potentially save 1 or 2 out of 1000 children (you still have to do the life saving, the device just tells you your kid is dying,) that means the company’s making over a quarter million in profit from that segment that will never save a baby from SIDS (those 998 lucky bastards.) You can insert your “ooh evil tech company” or “that’s a fair trade” grunting noise here.

As a note, official CDC numbers are 38.7 out of 100,000 for SIDS deaths, this translates to 0.4%, we’re calling it 0.5% to scare you.

From the Verge’s article

…none of these is a medical device, nor can any be used to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. SIDS is every parent’s worst nightmare. It accounted for 1,500 infant deaths in 2014 and remains unexplained and unpredictable.

This is the Mayo Clinic’s writeup on what SIDS is. Sure looks like if I knew then instant a baby stopped breathing while sleeping there’s a chance I could attempt to wake them and start resuscitation measures. I don’t see any articles claiming that this is impossible, feel free to point me to one.

I’m pretty sure if I can wake up a child and get air into them, I have prevented SIDS. Am I wrong here?

For the 1 or 2 that an O2 monitor discovered a baby stopped breathing, assuming the parents are capable of resuscitating a child (waking them up, starting mouth to mouth,) I’d assume you have a better than average chance of getting the child back as you caught it before brain damage occurred. All depends on what the actual SIDS cause was and whether you’re panicked to death while attempting to resuscitate the child.

There’s a footy I saw at CES 2016 that is mentioned in the Verge’s article (evidently they use fear mongering in their advertising, it’s not loading, I’ll believe them,) that had we had it our littlest would have been in the hospital at 2am one night rather than going to a pediatrician at 9am who then sent her via ambulance to the hospital. We would have seen that her blood O2 levels were dropping and googled that shit and off to the hospital when she reached below 80% blood O2 levels.

We might have even had a chance to apply for Tenncare assistance on the way in and saved ourselves the $6500 deductible, an 11 block $850 ambulance ride, $300 pediatrician office visit for under an hour, etc.

Cameras have been sold for years on the fear of “what if something happens in the baby’s room and I don’t see it because the door squeaks and wakes the baby up every time I come near”.

The Verge’s claim is also made that none of the devices are a medical device. Errr… that’s like claiming because a thermometer was sold at Kroger it’s not a medical device. Does having an alert pop up on my smartphone at 3am that my child’s temperature is 103 and I need to get them to a hospital or give them a fever reducer somehow become invalidated because this is not a medical device by The Verge’s definition?

First off to define medical device “medical: of or relating to the science of medicine” “Medicine: the science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease…” – by definitions obtained from the Goog, a thermometer is a medical device, something that helps you diagnose an illness (O2 sensor) is a medical device. These are devices to help you diagnose and potentially prevent illnesses.

You may not be a doctor, but a hand to the forehead or a cheap thermometer to feel if a child is hot is diagnosing. Here’s what the FDA says about what a medical device is.

o2 sensor
Wired version

Baby monitoring stuff is indeed a medical device, and if your baby is unlucky enough to end up in the hospital you’ll get a chance to see a wired version of the wireless footy The Verge is talking about in action (look left, that’s that it looks like).

That’s from my kiddo two months ago when her O2 levels dropped below 80% and she got to stay in the hospital for a night ($8000 hospital bill with some discounts applied so far).

They may be saying it’s not an FDA approved medical device in use in hospitals, but devices that can tell you when your baby’s temperature is high or low and when they’re not processing oxygen is a medical device for diagnostics, and damn useful too.

The author of the Verge’s article then goes into a company that doesn’t use fear in its marketing tactics. Hrmm… if I wasn’t already afraid of something happening why would I be looking to get a data-generating onesie for my child?

Er, no, fear is there, they’re just not jumping out and screaming “boo!” like some companies – they’re there waiting for you to come to them. Fear is their primary marketing tool whether they push it or not. Very few people are curious enough to spend money to have a 10 minute head start on getting a bottle ready for a waking baby.

I’ll point out this isn’t an evil thing regardless of how I make it sound. Insurance is sold on statistical fear of accidents, seatbelts are worn based on fear of life threatening injury or ticket, banks are propped up on the fear or losing the money in your mattress, etc.

These devices are all alarms and allow you to have a little bit of parenting time that’s not stressed the eff out. You can’t look at a baby and tell her blood O2 levels are dropping, you just see sniffles. You can’t tell what her temperature is without a thermometer which for some reason they all beep incessantly (really baby thermometer companies, what the hell is wrong with you?).

The fear is there, and for a very tiny percent (myself included,) the fear is founded and real, and has resulted in needless suffering because we didn’t know how bad things were as we still had a smiling, if sniffly, baby.

So yes, these things are sold on fear, you’ll hear testimonials from the people that these devices saved, testimonials from the people like me who wishes I’d had a device to tell me happy baby was really sick and unable to tell me.

But let’s do the math here. 998 out of 1000 kids don’t die of SIDS. This means you need to worry 0.5% – that means 99.5% of you have nothing to worry about for SIDS.

From what I can tell slightly more than 90% of babies-2yo do not require hospitalization that could be prevented or caught early by a monitoring device (O2 sensor, high temp, breathing issues). Up your worry for the 0-2 crowd to 10.5%

So you’re at about one in ten children that these Borg-like sensors could help with. There’s your legit practicality ratio. This puts baby tech in the same categories as fire extinguishers, spare tires, jumper batteries/cables, smoke alarms, seat belts, etc.

And like a seatbelt, an O2 footy monitor *could* save a life. For 90% of people, no, it’s useless.

So is that fear mongering? Certainly some companies are using fear to sell product which is kind of reprehensible, but at maybe 1 in 10 that it could help out that’s not an unfounded impractical investment.

Should you get one of these baby monitoring devices? 90% chance you’ll never need it in the first two years. Statistically, assuming I got the right numbers on ages 0-2 hospitalizations based on respiratory causes, no. There’s no use.

So the question is do you want to risk that 10% or have it in the back of your mind? That’s up to you. There’s really a 90% chance nothing is going to happen if you don’t buy baby tech X. Understand that.

Don’t do it in fear, don’t buy from fear, but do realize some of these things are incredibly useful and can take the overwhelming fear you already possess as a parent and drop it down a bit.

I’ve used a webcam to make sure my oldest has a blankie on before I turn in, and a Snuza Hero to make sure the littlest one is breathing. If I’d had the Owlet I’d have gotten the littlest to the hospital before she was gasping for air.

I really miss the days when The Verge had comments…

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.