A baby monitor, also known as a baby alarm, is a radio system used to remotely listen to sounds made by an infant. An audio monitor consists of a transmitter unit, equipped with a microphone, placed near to the child. It transmits the sounds by radio waves to a receiver unit with a speaker carried by, or near to, the person caring for the infant. Some baby monitors provide two-way communication which allows the parent to speak back to the baby (parent talk-back). Some allow music to be played to the child. A monitor with a video camera and receiver is often called a baby cam.
Not everyone needs a baby monitor. If you live in a smaller house or apartment, keep your infant in close proximity, or just generally don’t feel the need to monitor your baby as they’re sleeping (the infant cry is hard to miss!), you may find that a monitor is unnecessary. Other people may only want a monitor for occasional use, like when you’re out in your yard while your baby is napping and want to know when they’ve woken up.
As you’d expect, the talk back functionality and audio quality in general are great—easily better than the crude talk back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor had the strongest battery life of any in our test (not entirely a fair comparison, as this is the only one with no screen to power). Rated to a range of 1,000 feet, it exceeds the range of our pick (700 feet) both as advertised and in practice during tests.
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Just because you’re pulling double diaper duty doesn’t mean you need to buy two baby monitors. If you’re a twin mom, simply look for a monitor that can accommodate add-on cameras. The Babysense Video Monitor comes with two digital cameras right out of the box (and can handle up to four), making this the best baby monitor for twins. With the push of a button, you can toggle between views of your twin babes. Plus, this monitor features digital pan/tilt and zoom, two-way communication, room temperature monitoring and a 900-foot range.
Poor quality and durability plague many baby monitors. Scores of reviewers on Amazon and other sites report that the Hello Baby HB32; Motorola MPB854Connect, MBP36XL, MBP33XL, MBP41, and MBP43; Infant Optics DXR-5; Summer Infant Dual View and Sure Sight 2.0; Levana Jena, Keera, Ayden, Astra, and Lila; Angelcare AC420; Philips Avent SCD570 and SCD630/SCD637; and VTech VM342-2 and VM343 don’t deliver on promised functionality and start to fail in some critical capacity within a year—often in much less time.
In early 2011, two infant strangulation deaths prompted a recall of nearly two million Summer Infant video monitors. The CPSC also reported that a 20-month-old boy was found in his crib with the camera cord wrapped around his neck. In that case, the Summer Infant monitor camera was mounted on a wall, but the child was still able to reach the cord. He was freed without serious injury.
You might see monitors on the market with claims that they can track a baby's breathing or movements, but unless the unit is registered with the FDA, it's not a medical device. Consumer Reports hasn't tested this type of monitor. Talk with your pediatrician if you think your child has a condition that warrants medical monitoring. He or she can give you advice on the best devices.
Intuitive and User-Friendly Menu and Features: What good are 25 fancy features if you can't figure out how to navigate the menu and customize settings or change options? All of the best baby monitors reviewed above have great utility, with high video quality and a nice feature set, but some of them have relatively high usability, which comes in handy when you don't want to spend too much time shuffling through menus to change one silly setting.
The Nest boasts some impressive hardware specs, such as true 1080p/30fps video and a 3-megapixel camera sensor. Setting up the Nest Cam specifically to look in on a 2-year-old at night, we found the video quality on Nest's camera to be sharper and more detailed than on any baby video monitor we tested. The Nest Cam includes push-to-talk features as well as alerts triggered by motion or sounds. And when your child is past the age when you need a nighttime monitor, you can repurpose the Nest Cam to check in on other parts of your home.
We took these criteria into consideration, factored in user feedback and reviews from across the Web, and eventually narrowed the list to eight cameras for testing. We used each camera for several months, taking notes on the interface and any difficulties we ran into. We connected each model to multiple routers, and used each from various distances and through walls to test range. We also ran each monitor from a full charge down to zero to check battery life. Finally, we evaluated each monitor's night vision in dark environments. Read more about our tests in our full guide to baby monitors.
In addition to the standard parent and baby unit, these monitors include a device that tracks your baby’s movements, breathing, or heart rate, and offer time-sensitive alarms that alert you if your baby hasn’t moved in the last 20–30 seconds. While they aren’t proven to reduce SIDS, many new parents told us these monitors gave them added peace of mind.
When shopping for baby monitor, try to choose a product that offers both quality and security. For best results, opt for a model that offers both audio and video capabilities. You should be able to see and hear your baby in real time and also talk back to them as needed. Baby monitors can vary dramatically in quality, but today's models offer stunning HD video that ensures you can see your baby's surroundings with crystal clarity. Purchase the best quality you can afford, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your baby is closely within reach.
If you sleep in the same room as your baby or live in a small enough space that you can always hear or see what your baby is up to, you probably don’t need a monitor. Otherwise, most parents enjoy the convenience a baby monitor provides—instead of needing to stay close to the nursery or constantly checking on your child, you’re free to rest, catch up on Netflix or get things done around the house during naptime. Monitors can also double as a nanny cam to keep an eye on your child and their caretaker.