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Video Baby Monitor Smackdown

By Amalah

Dear dear Amalah,

I am currently 28 weeks pregnant with my first child and oh my lands am I overwhelmed with all the stuff I need to buy. Your pregnancy checklist has been such a godsend but I still need more info. Somehow I managed to make a decision on which crib set to buy. Then it was the crib mattress debate. Now my latest quandary is over what I should purchase for a baby monitor. Is a video monitor worth the price? Which one is better than the rest? I spent almost an hour in Target this past weekend picking up and then putting down a Summer Handheld Baby Video Monitor before ultimately deciding I wasn’t prepared to fork over $200 for something that I didn’t know the first thing about. Maybe you and/or your readers have some insight and advice? I need to get this debate settled so I can move on to obsessing over which pack’n’play to purchase!

Thanks a million,
C

(We have updated reviews of baby montiors here.)

Okay. So it turns out I have a LOT to say about baby monitors. And I’m afraid none of it may end up being particularly helpful, but here goes:

With Noah, we skipped the pricey video monitor (which, I believe, were even MORE expensive at the time) and went with your basic lights n’ sound model. Which one? I have absolutely no recollection, and a quick perusal of Amazon suggests it’s not even available anymore. An antique, already! We used it very rarely, honestly, because we lived in a small loft-style apartment and DIDN’T ACTUALLY NEED A MONITOR. I am pretty sure someone along the registry way told us this, but of course I would not listen. A baby monitor was right there on the store’s list of stuff we neeeeeeeeeded. So therefore we neeeeeeeeeeeeeeded it.

We didn’t. The monitor simply amplified the sounds that we didn’t need to hear: Noah’s sighs, snuffles, wiggles, etc. When he actually woke up…he cried, and we could easily hear these cries from our room. (You’ll be amazed at the spidey-sense hearing you immediately develop after giving birth — it’s like a personal superpower, the ability to hear your child roll over in his sleep from three rooms away, or to wake up exactly 10 minutes before he starts demanding boob.) The monitor drove me crazy, jerking me awake over and over. Finally, we turned the sound off and went only by the lights (they would indicate the volume of noise the monitor was picking up, so we knew we could ignore the one- and two-light flashes). This seemed counterproductive — you can’t hear lights in your sleep, right? But again, when Noah really needed us, we heard him.

All that aside, the monitor was most handy during the day, when Noah napped and I did something else noisy — like cleaning up the kitchen, with the water running, drying my hair, etc. It certainly was never essential, but since we picked out an inexpensive model AND got it as a gift ANYWAY, it wasn’t like, a hugely regretful purchase or anything. I donated it to charity sometime before Noah’s second birthday.

Now. Ezra. By this point we were in an actual house. With hallways and floors and stairs and LEVELS, SO MANY LEVELS. And video monitors were IT. Practically all you could buy, unless you were a cheap, neglectful bastard who did not care if your baby stopped breathing in his sleep because you WEREN’T WATCHING HIS CHEST RISE AND FALL.

So after reading approximately 22,394 different online reviews, we bought the Summer Day & Night video monitor, likely the very one you pondered in Target, (or perhaps a version or two ago). We gave it a test run in Noah’s room. He’d already made the switch to a big-boy bed, but we were having a hard time keeping him in it at night. He’d get up, wander around his room, jump on the bed, kick on the headboard, all stuff that required multiple trips upstairs for gentle scolding and re-tucking. Same thing at naptime. For this purpose, the getting-a-toddler-to-sleep-in-a-real-bed thing, I REALLY loved having the video monitor. We could just shout up! Noah! Get back in bed! And then we’d watch him freeze, like how did they know? And he’d scurry back under the covers, because WHOA, MAMA SEES ALL.

Since we weren’t planning to have a shower, we paid for the monitor ourselves…only to end up getting a second one as a gift. We were given this Graco model, and decided what the heck, let’s keep it and try it out: We liked having a monitor in Noah’s room, maybe we’d actually use both of them. The picture quality and range were pretty comparable (let me note that you should not expect any of these little monitors to be HDTV-quality, or anything like the “simulated images” on the packaging — they’re more like a fuzzy closed-circuit security camera, not even as good as a standard webcam, particularly in the night-vision mode), but OH, the BATTERY LIFE. The Graco did NOT hold a charge. Despite the handy, flip-phone style parental unit, we found that we had to keep it plugged in pretty much non-stop. Carry it downstairs during a nap and it was dead long before the baby woke up. I hated it.

By the time Ezra was born, the Summer was our clear winner and monitor of choice. Jason installed the swiveling camera above the crib at the perfect angle and we were all ready to obsessively monitor our newborn with space-age modern technology.

Aaaaand…we rarely used the thing. Again. Ezra slept either with us or in our room for the first four months, and usually napped in places like…his swing, his carseat, a sling, my arms. All generally pretty portable, so I never really needed a monitor to keep an eye on him. We did indeed use it when he first transitioned to his crib, and then I misplaced the parental receiver part less than a month later…and then…we actually still don’t know where it is, to this day. Somehow, we’ve all survived just fine without any type of monitor.

When I was pregnant I imagined all these scenarios that would put me out of earshot — I’d be down in the basement with Noah, out in the backyard — and then found that ACTUALLY, my hearing is pretty good, or I’m simply pretty good at tuning into Ezra’s schedule so I just *know* when to start listening for him. Turns out that occasionally coming in from the backyard to listen at the bottom of the stairs isn’t that taxing, and I usually come up from the basement playroom to get drinks or snacks or whatever pretty often, sooo…. Yeah.

All this said: The Summer one is the way to go, if you want a video monitor. It’s a nice little monitor. I sure am hoping our lost receiver turns up in time for Ezra’s big-boy bed transition. Just…maybe don’t buy it for yourself. Stick it on the baby registry. Wait for your shower. (I know, you are SURE nobody will shell out $200 on you. But then a couple people pool their money, your office goes in on a surprise group gift, someone just up and SHOCKS you with their generosity…or someone who already owns one spots it on your list and offers you theirs.) At the very least, wait until you get some gift cards and feel pretty well stocked on most other essentials.

In the end, the video function is gee-whiz cool, provided you actually find it reassuring and convenient. If you get a light sleeper who pops up every time the floorboards outside his room creak, the remote monitoring is crazy handy. (As opposed to I MUST STARE AT THE SCREEN ALL THE TIME. I AM KEEPING MY CHILD ALIVE THROUGH THE FORCE OF MY STARES AND NEUROSES.) However, if you’re really looking to keep costs down and the amount of unnecessary gear and gadgets to a minimum, hold off. Don’t feel like a standard ol’ audio monitor means doom and danger to your newborn.

(Any Graco Pack n’ Play will do, though I’m slightly jealous of the new models with the little napping station. We bought one with a bassinet and diaper changer, neither of which we used all that much. Noah hated the bassinet, the diaper changer was at an awkward height, then we lost a part to the bassinet attachment before Ezra arrived. [Wow. We’re real organizational winners, aren’t we?] The basic actual Pack n’ Play, however, has been a lifesaver time and time again, for travel and houseguests and general baby containment purposes.)

********


If you’re looking for ideas and recommendations for a baby registry, don’t miss our Baby Registry Checklist.

Considering an online baby registry? We recommend our affiliate Amazon’s Baby Registry, which offers free 90-day returns on baby store purchases. You can even add items from other websites onto to your baby registry.


Photo Credit: Hawkeye by jurvetson

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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HereWeGoAJen
Guest

My video monitor is the greatest single baby item I own. I actually cried the other day when I thought it was broken. (It wasn’t.) We have a not-so-good-sleeper baby and the video monitor lets me know when I need to go into her or when she is going to settle herself down. (For example, is she crying while lying down with her eyes closed? Or is she standing up holding the bars of her crib?) That being said, we didn’t get it until she was eight-ish months old and didn’t need it until she was about seven-ish months old.… Read more »

Jen
Guest
Jen

I am anti-baby monitor. I think they are a silly item unless you have a really huge house with baby at the far end, miles away from you. I actually think they contribute to excessive helicopter parenting. That being said, we have a $5 garage sale lights-and-sounds monitor that we got for travel to relatives’ homes. We have used it a few times when our baby went to sleep in a distant room in a strange house, but that’s it.

Therese
Guest
Therese

Congratulations on your pregnancy! All of these baby related purchases are so overwhelming, aren’t they! I found a one-year membership to Consumer Reports online (about $30) to be a lifesaver. For just about every baby product you can imagine they have safety, battery life, functionality…ratings. I found it quite helpful for both the monitor and travel yard decisions. I also think the user comments on Babies R US, Amazon, and other sites can be helpful. If you’re not interested in the video monitor and just want a regular noise version, we have had great luck with the Sony Baby Call… Read more »

Sheila
Guest
Sheila

We do use our monitor a lot but our circumstances are different. We have cats and I don’t like them sleeping with me (yes my husband thinks I’m really mean but one would take up a third of the bed, the other would want to play all night) so we keep our bedroom door closed. We keep the girl’s door closed too, not really sure why. Since the bedrooms are right next to each other we’d probably hear her anyway, but my husband needs a fan on for white noise. We’ve tested it out and actually we don’t hear her… Read more »

Susan
Guest
Susan

I own the Summer Day/Night Color video monitor (not handheld), and just wanted to chime in on the quality. It works just fine, but if the option is still out there to purchase only the black and white monitor, do that. I NEVER see color on my monitor, and I believe my aunt paid twice as much for the monitor just to get that function. The color is only visible in very bright rooms, and I keep my son’s room darkened for naps, and at night, of course. Also, Amy’s right, you will be astounded at your hearing capabilities. I… Read more »

Kim
Guest
Kim

I didn’t get a monitor with my first. My house is 1500 sq ft and all one level, and the nursery is right across from our bedroom. I am going out to buy one(although I am hoping there is a cheapcheapcheap sound-only one available) for this new one. Because the preschooler likes to sing, and the tv may be on, and any or all of the dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, or breastpump may be running, and the baby just can’t compete.
Either that or I’m losing my hearing.

Stephanie
Guest

We have the basic Fisher Price lights and sounds one. It works great. We’ve stopped using it because of the whole hearing every little noise — coughing, whimpering, sighing, talking to herself — I’m such a light sleeper I’d wake up for all of these. And we definitely hear her when she’s crying with or without the monitor. It’s worth having around for when people are babysitting my baby, and when we shut the door because the cat is driving me nuts. That’s about it. I truly don’t see the need for a video monitor, but that’s me.

Erika
Guest
Erika

I have 2 boys (about the same ages as Amy’s kids) and I don’t think I could live without the video monitor. We had an “antique” with our oldest, like with the small TV that sits on your nightstand (a gift)…that part stunk, but it was absolutely essential for sleep training, as Amy mentioned, and as a previous commenter said, for determining if it was time to intervene with a woken-up baby or not. When the second was born, we upgraded to the Summer Infant monitor with a second camera. I love the hand-held receiver, but you have to be… Read more »

Christy
Guest
Christy

I also own the Summer Day/Night Color handheld video monitor for my 9 month old son. While I live in a small house and probably don’t even need a monitor at all, I love having it. While we didn’t get it until he was about 4 months olds, I definitely have used it during sleep training to decide whether or not I should go in. He looks right at the camera when he stands up in the crib, which is actually quite amusing to watch.

Tanya
Guest
Tanya

We have a 3-story house, and our monitor was a HUGE part of our lives. It allowed us to be outside of earshot without worrying about whether we’d hear the baby wake up, and it also allowed us to assess whether the sounds coming from the nursery were the baby awakening or just a false alarm. We used monitors for both of our children and retired them around 1yr for both. I really believe that the monitor enhanced both productivity and peace of mind (while contributing to more relaxing down time!). Good luck!

Steph
Guest

The video monitor is my favorite baby item for sure. It probably keeps me from running into his room at least 2 dozen times a day. And sometimes I just like to watch him sleep 🙂
COngrats!

Courtney
Guest
Courtney

I was right there too, making sure I had every little thing that the babies (twin boys) might need. We got the Safety 1st High-Def Digital Video Monitor as a gift and loved it. But like Amy said, after about a week, you’re pretty tired (literally) of waking up to every hiccup, rustle and sneeze. This monitor had a feature to choose the level you want to hear…1 – being everything, 2 – whimpers and whatnot and 3 – real cries. So from week 1 on, it was all Level 3. The video also gave me some much needed peace-of-mind.… Read more »

Jaymee
Guest
Jaymee

So I was told over and over, “You don’t need a video monitor. It’s just a waste of money. You’ll never use it.” So I listened to everyone else and got a cheaper light and sound monitor. Turns out that I REALLY could use the video monitor. I am one of those Moms that thinks it’s perfectly safe for baby to sleep on the tummy. I slept on mine and so did every single person in my family and my husbands family and we all turned out great. But that’s a totally different subject, so back to my point. My… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

We actually went with a motion sensitive monitor rather than a video monitor for my worrywart of a husband. It has a pad that you put under the mattress and if the baby doesn’t move (ie breath) for 30 seconds it beeps once. If the baby still doesn’t move (or say, you forgot to turn it off when you picked the baby up) it starts beeping like crazy. I thought it was a little silly but my son refused to sleep on his back and it made me feel a lot more comfortable when we finally gave up and let… Read more »

Amy
Guest

We got a video monitor when our daughter was around 9 months old and it was a lifesaver. She’s not a great napper, and like a previous commenter said, it is nice to be able to see if she’s crying but almost asleep or if she has her leg stuck in the crib. We have the Mobi MobiCam, which is cheaper than the Summer ($90 or so) and works fine. Sometimes it makes weird static noises, but I’ve gotten used to it. As for the Pack N Play, if you are tall and will use it to change diapers, I… Read more »

Christie
Guest
Christie

I have the Summer day and night monitor and it is a godsend. I am not a helicopter parent by any stretch, but my house does not transmit sound very well so I really do need a monitor to hear her. Couple of things worth mentioning. I even used it when she slept in the room with us. The first week postpartum, it was a bit of work to get out of bed. When I heard her stir or fuss, I could press the button on the top of the monitor and (without getting out of bed! ) discover she… Read more »

Angela
Guest
Angela

We have a different-but-essentially-the same Summer handheld video monitor and I LOVE it. Best baby tool ever. Like HereWeGoAJen above, our daughter is kind of a restless sleeper, and the monitor lets us see whether she’s actually up or just resettling herself. I actually think it STOPS us from helicopter parenting, because otherwise we would be constantly on edge, wondering if that was the baby crying or just the wind, and running in there every time she cried. We have a tiny house but it’s still useful. Two thumbs up!

eva
Guest

We bought the cheapest safety 1st brand non-video monitor at Wal-Mart and it worked perfectly for our needs! We have a one level 1200 square foot house, so we could always hear Megan when we were inside. The only time we needed the monitor was those rare occasions when we were gardening/doing yardwork outside (gag) during her nap. That was it. We also traveled with it which was when it was really valuable – relatives would have a spot for Megan’s pack n play in the basement bedroom or something in their relatively HUGE houses, so we’d just plug in… Read more »

kari Weber
Guest
kari Weber

I have a sounds and lights one from Fisher Price. It is a 900mhz that is rechargeable and has two parent units. I used to live in a twee little house (690 sq. ft.) and still used a monitor with my first. Like Amy said, when you are busy cleaning, outside, or in the garage, it helps to have an easy way to KNOW whether you really hear the baby or not. Now that we are in a 1400 sq. ft. two story condo I use this monitor for my 9 1/2 month old. I found that I use the… Read more »

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

I pretty much agree with Jen. We have a small house, but bought an inexpensive audio monitor just in case we step outside while she’s napping. We only use it occasionaly when the washer is running loudly. Even then it’s not really necessary. I did love the pack n play with the sleep station. The name is ridiculous, but my daughter was so cozy in that thing until about 10 weeks when she outgrew it. The actual play yard part we didn’t use much. She wouldn’t sleep in it and it is too small to play in, so we just… Read more »

Alissa
Guest
Alissa

We don’t have a video monitor. Sometimes I wish we did, like when the baby (he just turned 1) wakes up at 5:45 AM, but then is quiet. And I lie in bed thinking – is he sleeping? Is he just staring at the ceiling? Is he doing headstands? But, really, I think a video monitor would just me more neurotic about my baby’s sleep than I already am. Right now I go with the “ignorance is bliss” theory. If he’s up there and quiet, then he’s sleeping, right? We do have one of the Angel Care monitors, with the… Read more »

Butterfly
Guest
Butterfly

Just another perspective – we also have (and adore) the Summer video monitor, and unlike Jen, we found it helped us NOT become “helicopter parents”. Even when she was an infant and learning to sleep, the monitor was invaluable…sometimes the sounds babies make when they are soothing themselves to sleep (or when they are already asleep) sound an awful lot like regular old yelling…but because we could *see* that she was peacefully lying still whilst “vocalizing” this way, we knew not to run in in a panic and disturb her. It helped us give our baby girl her space, and… Read more »

Jess
Guest
Jess

I have a two and a half year old, and I wish we had a video monitor. He goes through phases where he sort of resists sleep. Sometimes he’s just talking to himself, which we hear on the regular monitor, and that’s fine, he chats til he falls asleep. But other times, he’ll talk for a really long time, til one of us goes in his room and realizes that he’s taken his diaper off or undressed completely or gotten a foot stuck or something. Without being able to see what he’s doing, it’s hard to know if it’s worth… Read more »

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

I love our Summer for all the reasons everyone mentioned above. It is the one thing we got as a present that I would never live without. My favorite part has to be when my daughter wakes up. She sticks her face right up to it and tries to poke at the montior as if to get our attention. It might be a bit sick, but my husband and I watch her and laugh while she talks and stares straight into the camera. if I had the ability I would actually record some of it because it would be hilarious… Read more »

Pinkie Bling
Guest
Pinkie Bling

I have no bebes and no need for monitors…I just wanted to comment on the photo for this one. Is that the Stephen Colbert eagle? Hee hee hee!
________________
Editor: it’s a hawkeye!

Ellen
Guest
Ellen

Add me to the list of those who love the Summer Night/Day video monitor. We have two units, actually — one camera mounted above our almost-two-year-old’s crib, and two receiver-screen thingys which we just leave plugged in — one for downstairs, one in our bedroom upstairs. We hang the upstairs one on our headboard and turn the screen off at night so we just have sound — if he cries, we can blip on the picture and see what’s up before we decide to go in or not. (Note: we also used a piece of electrical tape to cover the… Read more »

Amy M
Guest
Amy M

your timing could not be better! i spent hours today researching this very thing and the one that my husband is set on which is the summer best view handheld one. the reviews for it on all sites are super mixed and left me not knowing what to do. after all of the helpful comments here i’m willing to give it a try!! thanks to all of you for your helpful insights!!!

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

I’m far too old to even know what to say about video monitors. But, when I was pregnant with our first, we had our 9-month-old niece stay with us overnight, and my BIL left the monitor with us. She slept in the pack-n-play in the room across from us, doors open and everything, but I was super-paranoid. We put her down, then later went to bed, and I put the monitor on the night stand on my side. Except, I couldn’t hear anything. So I checked on her, and when all was OK, decided I needed to turn the volume… Read more »

Christi
Guest
Christi

I just read through all the comments and I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned what was my biggest concern about video monitors…they’re *not* closed circuits (well, at least not the affordable ones). That means that people outside your home (i.e. neighbors, those men in the florist van across the street, etc) can pick up the video and audio transmissions of the monitor. I just wasn’t comfortable with the possibility of other people watching my baby. [fyi: there have been some class action lawsuits regarding this issue, the most recent one getting filed last fall: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/11/baby-monitor/ ) We live in a… Read more »

Alex'sMom
Guest
Alex'sMom

We love our Levana video monitor. At night, we turn the volume way down and the monitor screen wakes us when it turns on when he moves. So it is nice not to hear the cries through the monitor but we know what he needs. Besides the safety, it is just fun to look at our sweet little man sleeping and hear him sing to himself when he is awake.

The gold digger
Guest

Plus if you get a monitor, you might accidentally leave it on and when your friend the Gold Digger is over and you are telling her what a pain in the neck your visiting SIL has turned out to be – more work than help – you will realize that the SIL was in the kitchen while you were talking. In the kitchen where the speaker is. You and your friend were in the baby’s room with the monitor.
Oh yes. Don’t get the monitor.

z
Guest
z

I put a laptop with webcam next to the napping kid, and call the laptop on skype from the desktop upstairs. I set the laptop skype to auto-answer: it turns on video at first ring. I work at my desktop, high-quality video on a little screen, I can see baby stirring awake from his nap. You can use it just for sounds, too. Easy-peasy, zero cost.

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

z, great idea, but not exactly zero cost if a person doesn’t already have a second laptop and webcam.

beccado
Guest
beccado

love the summer day/night monitor…can’t say enough good things about it. I don’t know how we would have gotten along without it. we even take it with us whenever we travel.

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

For anyone who has two kids close together, this is a life saver: http://www.amazon.com/Graco-iMonitor-Multi-Child-Monitor/dp/B000FUTW86
we never used a video monitor, but I love that we can listen to both kids on the same handset.

BB
Guest
BB

We started out with the the summer video monitor but we had a difficult time getting the camera just right too close, you lose site of the baby if he moves too far and the kid just looks like a fuzzy blob. Then we started getting weird-o interference at random intervals and finally I just said to heck with it and returned it. We got a cheap-o lights and sound monitor for night time since the baby sleeps on a different floor and we keep it on the lowest setting. On a seperate note, after returning the video monitor I… Read more »

stacy
Guest
stacy

I didn^t have the $$ for a video monitor when my daughter was born, and now at nearly 1 year – I definitely wish that I had one. Like many others, I would really love to be able to see if the noises she is making are on the way back to sleep, or standing in crib-not going back to sleep without intervention noises. It can be really hard to tell sometimes and I end up with my ear pressed against the door, TV on pause, as I try to figure out whether to go in or not….!!! arghhh!! But… Read more »

Tanya
Guest
Tanya

I do not think that the video monitor is worth it. I had the regular lights and sounds monitor and my friends had the video monitors. I do agree that seeing the kids sleep was way cool and comforting when I was watching my friends son, however with the lights and sounds monitor I assumed my son was asleep (even if he wasn’t). If it was quiet in his room he was asleep, he let me know when he was ready to get out of bed. I got to relax and was not glued to the the video monitor wondering… Read more »

Erin
Guest
Erin

Ok–I realize this was all posted back in Feb, but I’ll still add in my perspective. For me, having a video baby monitor is a requirement. I am deaf, and while I can hear my child just fine with my hearing aids, I can’t hear without. Oh–and the person that mentioned KNOWING you hear your child, as opposed to THINKING you hear your child? Big time issue for me!  I have this one: https://www.amazon.com/gp/css/order-history/ref=ohs_order_orderid?ie=UTF8&opt=ab&qid=&search=102-7367750-5033834&sr= and I LOVE It. Not only can I see my baby, but it has lights that I can watch, and the screen will turn on when she… Read more »