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! 😀 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.