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Published November 11, 2013, 04:20 PM

Baby monitors: Harmful or helpful?

Fargo -- Parents can monitor their child’s breathing, skin temperature, activity level and body position using the Mimo Baby Monitor, set to launch in January.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

Fargo -- Parents can monitor their child’s breathing, skin temperature, activity level and body position using the Mimo Baby Monitor, set to launch in January.

They can also listen to live-streaming audio on their smart phones.

While this type of technology might help some parents, especially those who have lost a child, breathe (and sleep) a little easier, it can cause anxiety for others.

A high-tech baby monitor gives Meagan Jensen, 32, of Fargo, some peace of mind.

Jensen’s 2-year-old daughter, Kenadey, died about a year ago.

“Kenadey went to bed healthy and happy on Oct. 23, 2012, and never woke up,” Jensen said.

Doctors say Kenadey died from Epiglottitis, the swelling of the epiglottis. The condition in children is most often caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), the same bacterium that causes pneumonia, meningitis and infections in the bloodstream, according to Mayo Clinic.

Routine Hib vaccinations for infants have made epiglottitis rare. Kenadey had received the vaccine, but Jensen said her daughter had contracted a subtype that wasn’t covered by the vaccine.

“Statistically it shouldn’t have ever happened to her, but it did and we have had to live with her loss every day,” Jensen said. “I will never know if I had had an Angelcare Monitor or something like it if she would still be with us.”

Jensen now uses a monitor for her 1-year-old son, Kade.

“To say that we have worried about him and that something could happen to him is an understatement,” she said. “When your worst nightmare happens, when you wake up to find your child gone overnight, you never quite look at your sleeping baby the same way again.”

The monitor alerts her if her son stops moving and it registers the temperature in his room.

The monitor gives her some peace of mind, but she can’t quit worrying altogether because she knows no technology is fool-proof, Jensen said.

“Your mind can go crazy with the endless possibilities because the worst has already happened,” she said. “Because of what happened to my daughter, I will probably use this monitor with him for a long time.”

Kelly Olson, The Village Family Service Center regional program director in children’s services, says high-tech monitoring devices are OK if they help alleviate parents’ anxieties as long as mom and dad don’t overanalyze the data.

“People who have lost babies definitely have an increased amount of anxiety, and it’s completely understandable,” Olson said.

What parents need to do is make sure the device is alleviating stress instead of causing more distress, she said.

“It’s situation by situation, and a person has to be watchful of it,” she said.

As a nurse, Rochelle Rieck, 31, of rural Durbin, N.D., worried about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). So after her first child, Davis, who is now 4, was born, she got a baby monitor with a video screen. She watched it “like it was a TV show,” she said.

“I just felt more comfortable when I went to sleep at night,” she said.

She checked the monitor whenever she woke up at night and kept it with her during the day when her son was napping.

But she found that it actually created anxiety.

“I couldn’t not look at it,” she said.

With her second child, Benett, who is now 20 months, Rieck hasn’t used a monitor at all, and she finds she worries less.

“If you worry about every little thing, you’re just going to make yourself sick,” she said.

Rieck has never lost a child, but she knows a few people who have, so she said she understands why a high-tech monitoring system might make some parents feel better.

Dr. Stephanie Hanson, Sanford Health pediatrician, said there’s no proven benefit that any monitor can prevent or reduce SIDS.

“These types of devices have the potential to create a huge amount of anxiety in parents,” she said. “None of these products are perfect and will false alarm regularly.”

Those false alarms could lead parents to become desensitized to the alarms, she said. The devices could also provide a false sense of security, she said.

“I would love for there to be a device that could help eliminate SIDS because it’s absolutely devastating,” Hanson said. “But I just don’t think that any of these types of electronic gadgets are it.”

Instead, Hanson recommends parents learn all they can about SIDS and its prevention and take a safe-sleeping class.

Anything that increases parental anxiety earlier in life could also promote over-parenting later on, Hanson said.

In trying to protect their kids from pain, failure and disappointment, some parents deny their children the chance to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

“It’s so important for kids to be able to be resilient and to recover when something doesn’t go their way,” Hanson said. “If they’re never allowed to experience that then when they go to college or they get their first job and they get a critical review, they don’t have the ability to deal with that.”

Olson says that regardless of technology, each parent goes through different stages, and most tend to over-parent a first-born.

Parents are their children’s regulators, and it’s a fine balancing act, she said.

“It’s about balance, being able to understand and look at how our interventions are impacting the child,” she said. “Parenting is about reflecting on our practices to determine whether or not the practices are good or not.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

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