How Baby Monitors Impact Your Baby’s Sleep

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When you first get pregnant, there are so many things on your list of “must haves” and “nice to haves.” Among that list is often a baby monitor. But, would it surprise you if I said sometimes you need to just turn that thing off? No, I’m not a negligent parent. Read on as we explore how baby monitors can impact your baby’s sleep.

If you planned to be a co-sleeping family, you are probably less likely to have felt you needed a baby monitor. But, for those of us who planned NOT to co-sleep (even if we did because having a baby rarely goes as you planned), a baby monitor is probably one of the first things you think you need, beyond the diapers, onesies, and burp cloths. How will you hear the baby if he wakes up, if you don’t have a baby monitor?

Let me start by saying all families have different styles of parenting and everyone has a different size and shaped house. If you have a 500 square foot apartment, that is obviously going to be WAY different than a family with a 3,000 square foot home with 3 floors. If you have a small apartment, you most likely do NOT need a baby monitor. I don’t know the “right” size home that you “need” a baby monitor, but let’s discuss when they may or may not be useful when it comes to your baby’s sleep, in general.

Baby Monitors to Help Baby Fall Asleep

When it comes to your baby falling asleep, one of the first things you’ll worry about is how to put your baby to sleep. As your baby grows and goes through his 4 month sleep regression or the 8 month sleep regression, he may begin to sleep worse than ever before. You may think about sleep training and this is where the baby monitor can come in handy, depending on the method you choose to help him learn to fall asleep unassisted.

When our eldest (who inspired this site) was a baby, we had a basic baby monitor. We did not have a video monitor. More on that later, but if your baby is put down to bed and is making noises, fussing, or crying, a monitor can help you…well…monitor his crying. Is it is hungry cry? Is he distressed? Is that his falling asleep moan? Is his leg stuck between the crib slats? This is all easier to do with a monitor than your ear to the door or poking your head in without he seeing you or army crawling across the floor to do reconnaissance.

Once our son became a toddler, we graduated to a video baby monitor. Although we toddler proofed his room, we didn’t know what kind of trouble he might get in. So, we thought it best to be able to watch him in there, especially when he stopped napping and went up for a one-hour “rest time” every day. Thankfully, nothing bad ever happened. He was cute to watch, though.

Once we had our second baby, we moved the video baby monitor to the baby’s room. Honestly, I didn’t know how we got by without one of those the first time! :D Being able to see what was going on was much less stressful. However, baby monitors aren’t always good.

Baby Monitors and Helping Baby Stay Asleep

Some people feel that baby monitors are a form of Helicopter Parenting, which may lead to your unhappiness as a parent. “Helicopter Parenting” is where you are overly involved such that you don’t teach your child how to be self-reliant. Others feel that baby monitors abuse a new parent’s vulnerabilities for a profit and are unnecessary.

When it comes to sleep training, the moment where baby monitors hinder your progress is that you can hear every sniffle, moan, and fuss. Having a fuss or cry magnified in a monitor may make your heart beat twice as fast and make you think that someone is either kidnapping your child or he is facing extreme harm. No doubt that if your baby does have a medical condition, it may be imperative to more closely monitor his movements and breathing. But, for the average healthy baby, we don’t need to hear every little noise the baby makes. In fact, that may make you get in your own way of having your baby sleep through the night. Fussing and crying a little between sleep cycles is very normal and expected, in fact. Go in too quickly and you may even wake your baby up!

One day when it was unavailable when my younger son began taking longer naps, when I could not tend to him right away, I learned that a delayed response is sometimes beneficial. I was making my eldest son’s lunch and had to finish up, so he could eat (can you say cranky when hungry?). No more than 4 minutes later, I was walking up the stairs, I kid you not, my hand was on the doorknob, and my son went back to sleep! I am not suggesting all babies will be that “easy” (he was by far not a perfect sleeper, by the way), but having a monitor where you hear everything is not always the best tool in your toolbox when it comes to sleep training if it leads to checking on your child more than might be necessary. Second case in point is when my eldest was a baby, he was a loud sleeper. Every time he rolled over or made a little noise or coughed, I could hear him. This was unnecessary and woke me up literally for no reason. Because of where our bedrooms are, I could hear him very well without the monitor, if he started crying (I birth screamers, by the way), so I turned off the monitor at night when I slept.

Baby Monitors Can Be Useful

Having said all of that, a baby monitor can be extremely helpful, in some situations. If your baby wakes up, it’s easy to look in the monitor to see what’s going on. Is she fussing, searching for her pacifier, finds it, and rolls back over and goes to sleep? Does your baby have reflux and because you lifted one side of the bed, is she at the bottom of the crib? A video monitor, specifically, helps you stop imagining that something terrible happened in there or helps determine precisely whether you should go in at all. Perhaps that is teaching your baby more self-reliance than if you were forced to check on her each time.

When it came to our boys, we used the baby monitors, and less once the youngest was three. We have 3 floors and would regularly watch TV or a movie in the basement. It could be 2-3 hours before we’d go upstairs and if your baby is sick and vomits everywhere, it doesn’t sound like a good plan to not be able to hear him. We’d sometimes take the older child outside to play while the baby was napping. What kind of quality time would it be to have to run in and check every 5-10 minutes if the baby was awake? Nowadays, they even have baby monitors that can text you when the baby has been crying for so many minutes, even when you’re out on a date with a sitter at home.

I will finish with this: As with many tools in your parenting toolbox, it’s not the tools themselves, but how you use them.

Did you use a baby monitor and how did it help or hurt your baby’s sleep?

If you’re looking for ways to to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

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14 Responses to How Baby Monitors Impact Your Baby’s Sleep

  1. Jane B. says:

    We bought a video monitor using gift cards from our baby showers. At the time we weren’t sure if we would really need the video portion (isn’t it just the latest fad? they didn’t need them when we were babies, right?), but my husband likes the latest gadgets. I have to say that after using it with my 19 month old daughter, I would scrape every penny together to buy it again if needed. It’s been a lifesaver! Sure, for the first few months you don’t really need the video portion (other than to gaze at your sweet baby and show grandma & grandpa when they’re visiting), but once my daughter got older it was perfect. We went through a period where she learned to stand up in her crib, but couldn’t get down. I would never dare peek in at her during this time (she’s the type that would stand right up and want to get out and play), so the video was perfect. Our daughter will also randomly cry out at night, but when I look at the monitor she’s still lying down and asleep. In fact, as I’m writing this at 7am, she just cried out but was only rolling over (if I had gone in to get her after hearing the cry, she would be cranky because she’s not ready to get up). At nap times she will often wake and stand up and talk, but within minutes she’s lying down and asleep again. In the mornings, she will wake up and roll around in her crib, talking and singing. I know not to go in there until she’s actually standing up. She likes her time to wake up in the morning, just like we do at times. We don’t always just wake up and instantly get out of bed. When she stays over night at grandma’s house I even pack the monitor. If I don’t, my mom will sometimes get her up too early because she can’t see on the monitor if she’s ready to get up. And I am like you, Nicole, I often turn the volume off – especially at night. Our rooms are very close and I can hear her. I remember when we first brought her home, though, I turned up the volume very loud – like I would not wake up or something. It’s funny when I think about it now! Our video monitor has been an immense help!!

  2. Vivienne says:

    We have a video monitor and it’s been a lifesaver. I know it’s one of those things where people were perfectly fine without it years ago but especially as a new mom who didn’t know what kind of sounds were “normal” I really feel like it saved my sanity. My son slept in my room for the first 5 months so I guess I learned to tune out the sleeping noises after a while and only woke up for the real cries. When we put him in his own room I literally watched the monitor for hours to make sure he was ok (he totally was. I was the basketcase). Nighttime sleep training went fine and I used to lower the volume when I went to sleep so I wouldnt’ wake up when he babbled in his sleep and all was well. When I started sleep training him for naptime I found I had to relearn how to put my monitor to good use bc at first I was running in when he first started stirring to try to soothe him back to sleep before he actually woke up as suggested by one sleep book. Needless to say after a couple of days of doing this the only thing I had succeeded in doing was waking him up every time and breaking my toe running in to his room. So as my strategies changed so did the use of the monitor and I was able to learn when he needed me and when he just needed a moment. Some of my friends’ kids are such heavy sleepers that they could light firecrackers in their room and they wouldn’t move, but my son is a light napper so going in to check on him was not a possibility. Thank goodness for the monitor!

  3. Doug says:

    I think the article should be called “How Baby Monitors Impact Parents Sleep”. My wife and I joke that I have developed a debilitating condition called “Baby Monitor Anxiety”. My daughters (2.5 and 1 year) sleep on the second floor and we sleep on the first floor and the video monitor is attached to me after the girls go to bed. Seems like I’m always on high alert waiting for that next whimper or cough or scream. My wife is more laid back about it. I’ve become better about it as they’ve gotten older but it can really affect parent sleep if you’re not careful. I laugh that the girls are out like a light sleeping peacefully all night and there’s me in bed staring at them! Just another thing to add to non-stop brain activity! I’m sure when they grow up I’ll be wishing I could stare at them through the video monitor and be sure they’re safe so I better enjoy it while I can. :-)

  4. ruth says:

    it has been a blessing and a curse. i started off with a regular audio monitor, but then went to a video one when my friends started telling stories about their toddlers climbing out and getting hurt. now i’m “blessed” with the knowledge that just because all is quiet in there, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s sleeping!! argh!! =P on the flipside, it is hugely entertaining to see the little sleep rituals they need to go through before they finally settle to sleep. =)

    recently though, i got pretty upset at my video monitor. my 5 month old has been giving me 30 min catnaps for several months, and usually i will go get him right away if he wakes up happy and looking around (otherwise i leave him be for awhile to see if he’ll go back to sleep). he usually wakes up very quietly. but one time i decided to leave him in there for awhile, as i was busy with the toddler (so i can relate to your story in this post!). i found out that he woke up quietly, looked around for 10 minutes, and then quietly went back to sleep!!! for another hour!!!!!! normally i would be ecstatic about this, but i got so mad. i realized that if i had an audio monitor, i probably would have thought he was asleep this entire time, and probably not known he had woken up at the 30 min mark…. and would not have gotten him up! why hadn’t i done this from the start!! this makes sense why sometimes i get him up after a catnap, and even though he is happy, he still seems really tired afterwards! ARGH!!!!!!!

    but usually, there are more pros than cons about the monitor. but i do have to curb my sleep obsessive ways though. ;-)

  5. Meredith says:

    I love love having a video monitor – its so great to peak in on them while they are sleeping or if they cry out you can ‘see’ them without opening the door! Its great to watch them figure it out, reach of the paci themselves and go back to sleep. Its also great to watch my 3 year old sing to himself before he drifts off.

  6. Clare says:

    We bought a dirt cheap audio monitor when our son was born, and that really was a curse. We could hear him, but could never tell what was going on and found ourselves rushing in all the time when he didn’t need us, waking him up and actually causing more harm than good. After a couple of months of this torture we switched to a video monitor, and it’s been a real godsend for the last year or more. Our baby has NEVER been a good sleeper (better thanks to the advice on here!), but at least we could now see when he really needed comforting or had got himself wedged into a stupid position or whatever. It also has a useful feature that allows you to leave it on standby and have it turn itself on if it senses loud cries – very useful overnight. And we learned that yes, sometimes he could actually get himself back to sleep!

  7. Katie says:

    I have just a regular monitor (no video) and intially I was obsessed with having it on every time he slept. After he got a little older and wasn’t waking up to eat anymore, I realized it was better to just turn it off at night. That way I wasn’t hearing him stir and I began to sleep a lot better. I can still hear him when he’s really upset since he’s right down the hall, but sometimes if he just cries a little bit, I think it’s better that I don’t wake up because then I’ll start wondering if something is the matter or will go in to check on him when I really don’t need to. Now that he’s 20 months, for the most part he only cries loudly if he really needs to be changed or if his teeth are bothering him – right now he’s getting his canine teeth, so he has been waking more than usual. I I think I’ll have to check into getting a video monitor for the next baby though!

  8. Cara says:

    Your stories have empowered me. I will try no monitor at night. I am totally a helicopter mom when it comes to the darned monitor and I’m jumping up and checking on her at the slightest little gurgle. I “know” she can get back to sleep on her own but in my exhausted, sleep-deprived state I forget and just run in there before I even fully wake up. Wish me luck!

  9. JD says:

    LOl! So glad to hear other parents are as nuts as us! We bought a webcam off ebay with night vision after we heard friends had bought one for their twins’ room. Best. Purchase. Ever.
    Now my husband and I can totally indugle our control freak tendencies (or “Baby Monitor Anxiety” as Doug said) and watch our DD all the time! My husband can even check on her on his IPhone at work!

  10. Nicole says:

    @Jane Thank you for sharing your experience. I agree that when they get older and start moving around, it’s so nice to be able to see in there to see if they truly need anything or not. :)

    @Vivienne What a great example about the way you use the monitor matters and I’m glad you were able to help him sleep better by knowing when to go in and when not to. Thank you for commenting!

    @Doug LOL! Yes, you would be a good example of when to turn the monitor off. :D It does get easier as they get older, though. But, I hear ya that I’m sure there are times when parents wish they could make sure the kids walked home same from school and the like, even as they get older. Some people may think parents are overprotective, but the crazies out there make you nervous! Thank you for sharing!

    @Ruth Ah yes, sometimes the monitor is a curse when you would have thought they were sleeping, but know they’re not and it increases your anxiety about them getting enough sleep! Or, you see them wake up and think it’s time to get up and it’s not. Those are the times I tell people that maybe they should turn off the monitor until the last 15 minutes of the hour nap, if it fits in the situation. I’m glad you have learned to give him a little time to go back to sleep without rushing in there. :)

    @Meredith Awww! Watching them sing and unwind is the best!

    @Clare I’m glad you found the video monitor helped more than the audio monitory and that’s great he was able to get himself back to sleep! That’s always a great thing to see! :)

    @Katie I’m glad you’re sleeping better now that you’ve turned the monitor off and that’s great he is doing so well with sleep. I hope the teeth finish coming in, soon! Those can be rough! :(

    @Cara Yes, I know it’s hard to not instinctively rush in there with every noise. I remember those days! Good luck!!

    @JD I think technology is great, in that regard, that a working parent can see their child during the day. How wonderful it would be to “have lunch” with your baby or toddler while in your office at work! It may be a bit too “big brother”-ish for some people, but it’s hard being away from your kids while you’re at work every day! Or, how great it is that military parents can do webcam/Skype calls to see each other. It’s so great! Thank you for commenting!

  11. My wife struggles with the monitor, it’s kind of funny, I do believe in this article. I just wish babies could sleep when the parents were sleeping, we would double the population.

  12. Debbye says:

    Hi James,
    You are right! If all babies slept well and at the right times, we would have a population explosion! :)
    Thank you for writing!

  13. Alison says:

    We have a video monitor which we have found invaluable up until about last month when my 9 month old discovered that she could pull the cord out and play with it! The monitor suddenly went from being a godsend to the nearest weapon of choice- lol! We have moved it from on the cot to across the room. I have to squint to see her but at least I can keep an eye on her. I had to remove her mobile also as she is now tall enough to grab that too! I think she stares at the monitor lights across the room wondering why her mum has left her in the boring ‘prison cot’ lol! No more fun and games!

  14. Debbye says:

    Hi Alison- It sounds like you have quite an inquisitive little girl on your hands! Thank you for sharing and have fun. :)