I was not going to be the mom who needed an Owlet, a Snuza or any other fancy-pancy, expensive baby monitoring device for this baby. After all, I’d raised three other babies already without any major scares. I’ve got this, I thought.
Her first months were beautiful, but anxiety-ridden with her bouts of reflux and subsequent choking. Still . . . I thought I had a handle on it through our diet and medication changes. I didn’t know so much was still ahead.
My hand found its way to my 6 month old’s chest even before my eyes flew open.
She’s not breathing. She’s not breathing . . .
I made myself take a second and reassess. My eyes wide, hers shut, no sound coming from either of our lips, me kneeling over her on our bed. Both of us silent. I swallowed panic, but it rose back up. Nothing. No chest movement. Her arms cold and limp when I moved them.
I panicked. I picked her up and shook her, not hard, but enough to get a response if there was going to be any. It wasn’t a well-thought-out approach to check for a response. Just instinct.
She took a deep breath. It was the most beautiful sound, and yet the adrenaline had already begun to course through my body, and there was no ebbing its effects now. I nursed her, warmed her, wrapped my all around her, terrified that we came this close to a cliff and had almost fallen off. We could have lost her, I kept thinking. She fell back to sleep without a problem. Me — not so much.
The next morning I relayed everything to my husband. He waved me off as though it were just anxiety. Was it? I wondered. Could I have made up the whole scenario in my head? Is my mind really capable of that?
I didn’t know. Afraid that maybe it was just anxiety, I didn’t say anything to anyone else. And I kept quiet the next two times the same scenario happened over the following weeks, once in her hospital prescribed sleeping wedge.
And then came our camping trip. Afraid she might get smothered in my sleeping bag, I had her sleeping in her carseat next to me, where my hand could rest on her chest to make sure she was breathing. She was 8 months old now, and any concern about her head dropping and blocking her breathing had long since past. She was bundled safely and appropriately for the weather. My anxiety was still at an all-time high due to her other medical concerns. And so — to ease my anxiety, she slept as safely and securely as I could manage — with my hand always resting on her chest.
In the middle of the night, I woke for the umpteenth time to check her breathing. My heart plummeted yet again. Nothing. I waited a few seconds, then put my hands all over her face and hands. Cold. So cold. I shook her arms and legs. Nothing. I grabbed her limp body and shook, inwardly cussing and screeching and absolutely freaking out, outwardly silent. My husband, sleeping just inches from me, didn’t know what was going on. It was pitch black. Doctors later asked if she turned blue. I didn’t know.
Finally, she took a breath.
I cried. I held her to me, rubbing her, warming her up, snuggling her close, offering my breast. She fell back asleep. I barely did.
When we got home, I told my husband we needed to buy an Owlet — a pulse-oximeter you velcro on to your baby’s foot when they sleep at night which would alert you if your baby stopped breathing. He balked at the $300 price tag, convinced that since I didn’t ever wake him when it happened, and because he had never seen an episode, that it was all probably still in my head. And then I remembered a friend had lent us a different kind of breathing monitor called a Snuza. Oh my gosh, why didn’t I remember this sooner?!? That night we went to bed with the monitor securely fastened to our daughter’s diaper. We awoke too early in the morning to the monitor making a loud alarm. She had stopped breathing yet again.
“Get it” my husband said about the Owlet, after we made sure our daughter was breathing. Thankfully, friends in my mom’s group heard what was going on and they pooled their resources to gift us one. In the meantime, we used the Snuza. Each day we woke to either an alarm, or a flashing light indicating that at some point in the night, she stopped breathing for more than 15 seconds, but started again once the Snuza vibrated and roused her.
In addition to researching our breathing-monitor options, I placed a call to her medical providers as soon as I could after our trip. The neurology nurses told me I had to call 9-1-1 the next time it happened. I felt like such a horrible mom for not knowing that I should have called 9-1-1 earlier. I figured since she started breathing again, we were in the clear each time. Later that week, after another blaring alarm from the Snuza, I made my way with my baby to the children’s ER per the nurse’s orders. Which ended up in a hospital stay. She was diagnosed with having an “apparent life-threatening event.”
But the thing that shocked me the most was the degree to which each doctor I saw — our pediatrician, our neurologist, the ER doctor — dismissed my usage of a home-monitoring device for my baby.
“They aren’t approved.”
“They give too many false alarms.”
“You don’t really need to have that.”
“You don’t really need to know that.”
But why, I questioned. If my daughter stops breathing at night, shouldn’t I know about it?
Well, yes. Of course the answer is yes. But the real question is, are these new-fangled health monitors for babies are actually what we parents should rely on?
Stephanie Heuston, founder of Coping with Laryngomalacia, Inc, offers 10 reasons a store-bought breathing monitor is not recommended when your child is facing possible apnea or other significant health problems. A few of those worth noting is that these home monitors don’t come with oxygen — and when you do need to call 9-1-1, each second you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive is a precious second your child does not have.
Another of her critiques is that the Owlet, specifically, has pre-set limits for the alarm — and in many cases, those limits are too wide. Ideally, an expert should be able to change the settings as well as the device itself to adjust specifically to your child. Speaking of limits, there are limitations to what these devices can monitor. While the Snuza might monitor respiration, it can in fact mistake the movements of choking and aspirating with respiration, not alerting parents to the distress their child could be in.
Heuston is not the only one questioning the safety of a baby health monitor in the home. Dr. Ruey-Kang Chang, a pediatric cardiologist and a Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute researcher, is quoted by Fox News with his own criticism. “In my opinion, these are the wrong parameters to monitor to prevent SIDS. By the time there are changes in the baby’s breathing or heartbeat, it’s already too late.”
But if all these things are true — they give false alarms, they don’t offer REAL solutions when there is a breathing problem, they give a false sense of security . . . should we rid the market of all these devices? Are they simply a money-making scheme, profiting off anxiety-ridden parents like myself?
As a concerned mom, I found myself damned if I did, damned if I didn’t.
The monitor as well as my reports of what was happening was enough to secure a sleep study. Her test showed 12 episodes of apnea, 11-14 seconds long. Long enough for it to be possible for me to catch her in the middle of one — not long enough to require intervention or a home monitoring system. So Heuston’s panacea of a device coming equipped with the O2, and the custom limits and leads, or the technician who would walk me through all the things I need to do if she stops breathing was simply not an option for me. And that probably is a good thing. (Thankfully, though, my husband and I are both certified in CPR — and I highly recommend you do the same!)
And yet — I was a mom who had watched her child stop breathing enough times, hands on her tummy counting to see if she would go past 20 seconds without a breath, and my anxiety could take no more. So what do I do?
I stuck with the Owlet. But I wished that there were some middle ground here. Maybe the Owlet and the Snuza and any other kind of home monitoring device might not be good for diagnosing (as they already deny preventing, diagnosing or treating disease in their disclaimer). Maybe they aren’t for parents of really sick babies. But I do think they have a place in parenting, and I also think whether the doctors get on board or not, they are here to stay.
We parents live in a world unlike any other parent in history — where we not only have access to medical journals online, and can research the heck out of any symptoms our kids are going through at 2 am without a call to the doctor — we also have access to a social life in which we are bombarded with medical news, information and stories about kids. Back in our parents’ day, I bet you very few of our parents knew about a child who died of SIDS. That’s because their social circle was largely limited to their physical space. But we parents now live in a world where once a child passes away, there are new stories and blogs and “what I wish I would have done” or “what I never could have done” heart-wrenching posts where we cry our eyes out at the loss of a child we didn’t know, curl around our own sleeping children, and beg God or the universe to keep our kids safe. And then we scour the internet, and come across an Owlet — and before you know it, that thing is packaged, shipped and on our front doorsteps.
Because of this social spread, our lives FEEL more dangerous. And we react the way we’ve always reacted in this generation. We search for information. Is it so surprising that the generation who needs fancy watches that track our every step and every wink of sleep, the generation who downloads apps designed to count calories or track our fat grams for the day, the generation who conceived our babies because some pink app told us we were ovulating after months of tracking, might also be the generation who demands we have more — and better — access to our kids’ vital signs?
So if we as parents are demanding access to this information, and peace of mind — and we also long to work with our doctors, not against them — how can we safely incorporate these devices into our children’s lives and do so safely and with the support of our doctors?
For starters, we as parents need to start informing our pediatrician’s that we are using them. I’m not saying, we need to ask for their permission, or even their blessing. But of all the doctors I talked to, most had no idea what an “Owlet” or a “Snuza” was. I believe if our doctors understood how common these devices are, they might not start waving them away as “useless” or “waste of time and money.” And instead maybe do some research on them. Perhaps they can’t recommend them generally — but could they at least say, “If you’re going to pick a device anyway, go with this one, because of blah-blah-blah.” (Insert their savvy medical advice here).
Second, I would love it if my pediatrician would simply say to me, “These are the heartrate and O2 levels that I’m comfortable with, from this age to this age.” Just like they tell me to call if her temperature goes up to 100.5 as a newborn, and then increases that temp limit as she ages, I would love it if they gave me the parameters to help interpret all this data I am getting. The truth is — I may have the data, but they remain the best person to interpret that data. I need their interpretation, but I also need to not feel judged by having the data at my fingertips.
Third, we each individually need to decide what works for our family. What calms my anxiety might be stress-inducing for you, and vice-versa. For me — I need to have that Owlet strapped to her her foot each night if I am going to get any sleep (which is not all that likely, anyway, since she wants to still nurse you know, every minute. But that’s another blog…) And I also still like having the Snuza as an option for the next time we go camping. And I’m secretly hoping Owlet will come out with a Sleep Sock — College Edition. Because a mom can dream, right?
I don’t know if you need an Owlet, or Snuza, AngelCare monitor or a hospital-grade apnea monitor.
Here’s what I do know. You have the right to your child’s statistics. You have the right to share your concerns with your doctor without judgment. You have the right to be proactive. You have the responsibility to inform your doctors if you are seeing episodes of breath-holding that are abnormal. (And if you don’t know what those would be, please have that conversation with your ped.)
And here’s one last thing I know. I’m ever so thankful for my Owlet. Last month, my daughter was so sick. And I didn’t realize how sick until I checked her O2 stats on my phone app for the Owlet. They were lower than I had ever seen, even though the monitor flashed green and my app said, “readings normal.” Still, it didn’t sit right with me. I called the nurse at our children’s ER, and after being a bit dumbfounded I had access to the information like her heart rate and O2 saturation, he instructed me to take her to the local ER where we were visiting where she required a nebulizer, IV steroids, hydration, and other meds, as her oxygen levels kept dropping into the low 80s.
The Owlet might not have given an alarm. But knowing her 02 stats at that moment seemed just as important to keeping her safe in her sickness as knowing her temp and how many wet diapers she had that day.
So maybe the Owlet didn’t save her life. But it certainly played a part in getting her the proper medical treatment along the way.
And maybe, just maybe, that alone is enough to give me some peace of mind.
I polled my Facebook audience, and here’s what some of them had to say:
“I remember 2 weeks before my daughter passed having a conversation about how expensive the Owlet was and how I felt covering her in prayer would be enough. Especially considering I had nothing like it with my son (who was 3 years older). It would have been worth every penny to know her oxygen levels and alerted she wasn’t breathing. For baby number three (due in August) I’ve already purchased the Owlet, Angel Care monitor and Snuza.” — Angelique
“We use an Owlet. It has provided so much additional rest for me because I have postpartum anxiety. I didn’t sleep well even in the first few weeks of use but felt comforted by the fact that I could look at my nightstand and see the green light telling me everything was okay. We have had some yellow notifications from misplacement of the device if he’s especially wiggly that night. However, the peace of mind that comes along with having the Owlet is well worth the money we put into purchase. 100% recommend.” — Alicia
“We use an angel care monitor, it just eases my anxiety. We did not have it with our oldest two and I was up a lot at night watching them esp if they were stuffy or not feeling well. It does give some false alarms once the babe can move around the crib but overall I have found it very helpful!” — Aimee
“Love our Owlet, still using it at almost 15 months old. Helps me sleep better without a doubt. And the company is amazing! We have had 3 red alarms, the first two he was a newborn and the pediatrician said it was probably just his body regulating itself (one was a low oxygen and one a high heart rate). Both times I was nursing him so I knew he was okay. She wasn’t super supportive or super negative, just answered my questions. This last time he was 14 months old, got a low oxygen reading and I went in and the blanket was over his head, so I do think it was a legit alarm. He may have woken up and pulled the blanket off, I have no idea but I was glad I had the alarm on him regardless.” — Sharon
“I used a Snuza. Before I got it I was waking up constantly just to make sure my oldest daughter was still breathing. It gave me piece of mind and allowed me to get a little more sleep. Downside with it was the occasional false alarm. Every once in awhile it would slip off her diaper just enough that it wasn’t touching her belly and set it off. Thankfully after the first one, I knew that and didn’t freak out before the situation was assessed, As she got older we used is less and less, but it was nice to have when she was sick to ease my worry after putting her to bed. If the battery hadn’t died on it shortly after my second was born, I’d probably still occasional use it when they are sick.” — Beth
“Talon was my 33 weeker with a grade one brain bleed, he had ABC issues (apnea and Brady cardia) spent a month in the NICU because of it. His oxygen would get so low he would turn blue and his heart rate would drop. Nothing a mother wants to see, when he finally went 72 hours with a episode that didn’t last longer then 30sec he was sent home. I had a snuza waiting for him at home and we used it up until he started to pull on it. We co sleep so I think that helped me have extra piece of mind. He still has sleep apnea but not as bad as birth. If we ever are lucky enough to have another baby I will be trying the owlet given Talon’s history.” — Cara
“I used a Respisense (Similar to the Snuza)on one of my children I didn’t sleep until I had it as my son had a couple of apnoea’s due to reflux. It helped me sleep and relax while I drove and be less hyper vigilant. The downside was the false alarms, there weren’t many but they made my heart race more than when he had a lapse in his breathing. Oddly enough, I couldn’t use one for my rainbow. The thought of using one induced a sense of panic and I irrationally felt that using one acknowledged that he might die and somehow become a self fulfilling prophecy and I would somehow make him more vulnerable.” — Karen
“We use the Owlet, I personally love it. I can sleep and know something is watching over my baby boy and will alert me if anything changes with his oxygen or his heart rate. I love that it has 3 different alarms (2 different sounds) so you know if something is wrong with your baby or something is wrong with the Owlet. My pediatrician didn’t support the idea of using the Owlet, she said it would drive me crazy however she doesn’t know that we have lost a baby before and that this device is truly a blessing to ease your mind. I won’t go a night without using it.” — Brittany
“I used the Angel Care system with my first once we moved her to the crib, but didn’t have anything for her her first several weeks. I was filled with anxiety those first weeks! I’m due again in March and we’re planning to get an Owlet for those times she’s not sleeping in the crib. I never spoke with my pediatrician about monitors like this, but I think they are absolutely worth every penny if they give you a little extra protection and peace of mind. I think it would be great for pediatricians to talk to their patients about SIDS, safe sleeping practices, and monitoring systems, because I think so many of us don’t have a clue until we’re already in the trenches of anxiety and using Google to help us figure it out. I’m thankful my parents bought us the Angel Care system as a baby shower gift, as I hadn’t even thought about that part while I was still pregnant. We’ve only had a few false alarms, but I also think we’ve had a few moments where the alarm stirred her just enough to get her breathing regularly again. I’m forever grateful for our monitoring system.” — Lacey
“I don’t and haven’t with any of mine. With my oldest I had horrible anxiety over him sleeping on his belly and called in tears because he wouldn’t sleep unless on his belly. Which of course they say causes SIDS, well her answer then still lives in my head today and I try to always remember it. She told me if a child was going to die of SIDS that was predetermined in the womb and to just enjoy every moment I had with him like it was his last and try to not stress these things. I took a little while to get in it my head but I’ve lived by it since him and he’s 9 now. It was definitely rough with the twins since they were so small and early but I’ve done my best to try and not stress myself anymore then necessary. It’s taken years and some medication along the way but I do ok now with the worry and try to just enjoy them the best I can.” — Brittnie
“We used Owlet and loved it! Totally worth the big price for the peace of mind after a stillbirth and premie born via emergency c—section for a heart condition/arrhythmia (WPW). The customer service is amazing! My heart doctor was ok with it considering my anxiety and baby history. He ordered us a home apnea/baby monitor which was too bulky and had false alarms all the time if no placed properly so we switched to owlet instead during night. We had one red alarm that went off during the night when our daughter was sick. (We also had some yellow alarms for the monitor not working but way fewer alarms then the sleep apnea monitor for her heart from home medical!) I thought it would be for a tachycardia but it wasn’t! She had low o2 saturation from the cold. We took her in and we’re happy to have Owlet monitoring our baby.” — Meghan
“I️ use an Angel Care and an Owlet that we bought ourselves. I️ still use them and my daughter is two since the risk of SIDS does not fully go away until age 4. It has helped me to sleep better knowing that my child is being monitored. My daughter was in the NICU for 15 days and I️ remember her being hooked up to the monitors and just watching the numbers praying the alarms wouldn’t go off.” — Anna
What about you? Do you use a breath-monitoring device for your little one? Why or why not?
Love to hear your comments below!
Rachel Lewis is a foster, adoptive and birth mom. After a 5-year battle with secondary infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss, she now has three children in her arms and a foster son in her heart. She is passionate about helping women feel heard and understood when building their family gets a little bit complicated. When she’s not chauffeuring her kids around, you can find her shopping at Trader Joes, drinking coffee, or writing about her journey as a mom here at The Lewis Note. She is a regular contributor to Still Standing Magazine, Pregnancy After Loss Support, and The Mighty. You can get her free resource, “Your BFF Guide to Miscarriage: 5 Ways to Comfort a Friend Through Pregnancy Loss” here. Connect with Rachel on Facebook, or join her private Facebook group Brave Mamas — a support group for anyone who had to struggle to build their family.
DISCLAIMER: This post was not sponsored or affiliated with any other company or brand. I did not receive any compensation for any of the products mentioned herein.