With the help of a baby monitor, you can hear and see your bub or even transmit soothing sounds to them from virtually anywhere.
Baby monitors give you the chance to get on with other activities, knowing you'll be the first to hear when your baby calls. They come in handy if you have a large house, especially two-storey, or your baby's room is some way from the kitchen or living areas of your home. Basic audio-only baby monitors are still effective, but you may be considering other features such as video, Wi-Fi connectivity or movement sensors.
Before you even begin to research baby monitors, it's important to know when you should start using one. This is entirely up to you as there are no hard and fast rules though we strongly recommend using one from the moment you start leaving your baby alone for any period of time.
It may even be worth getting a baby monitor from day one even if one parent is always watching the child. That way, anyone else in the house will be alerted quickly if there's an emergency. Some models also support remote access outside the home, so one parent can receive updates at work etc while the other is at home.
Baby monitors fall into two broad categories:
- Audio: Essentially a walkie-talkie between you and your baby's room. Though common for decades, these have mostly been replaced by video systems.
- Video: A system that sends a video feed from a camera, to a tablet-like viewing device or your smartphone via an app. If it's app-based, then you buy the monitor and download the official app to your own smartphone or tablet.
These transmit audio and video (if available) using a proprietary signal, radio, Wi-Fi or a mobile network (3/4/5G). Some brands use walkie-talkies for audio and a proprietary tablet like device if the product supports video too. In the last few years, we've seen some manufacturers transition towards apps in place of their own tablet so all you need to do is connect your phone to the baby monitor.
If your baby makes a sound during restless sleep, or it starts crying, then the microphone will pick it up and send it your way. Some video monitors will also alert you with audio if they detect movement, or no movement for a significant period of time.
While some baby monitors can cost as little as a few dollars for an app, other physical baby monitors we've tested range in price from $50 to $800. Our test results have shown a higher price tag isn't always an indicator of better performance, and we recommend a number of baby monitors that are under $100.
Do all baby monitors use Wi-Fi?
No, in fact there are many baby monitors that use radio, a proprietary signal or mobile networks such as 3G, 4G or 5G. However, a Wi-Fi unit is usually the best option if you have good internet coverage in your home, particularly with something like a mesh network.
These are only effective as long as the Wi-Fi signal is strong and facing few obstructions such as walls. It also depends on how many devices are connected to your home network at any given time as these can clog the network and affect performance. If you have a family of four, for example, you should consider a modem-router/router with plenty of bandwidth.
Sound range, interference and sensitivity
The baby monitor should maintain quality sound and picture, even when you're at the other end of the house. The monitor should also be able to pick up and reproduce soft sounds. Build quality is a big part of this, but you need to consider interference from other devices as well.
Monitors that use common radio frequencies may pick up signals and interference from other nearby devices (including those of your neighbours) such as cordless phones, microwaves, or other baby monitors. However, some monitors let you choose from several frequencies to minimise this, whole others that that use DECT (digital enhanced cordless communication) are more private and offer less interference as the frequency isn't as common as other devices in the home.
Yes, there are many baby monitors that substitute a radio or included tablet for an app that you can install on your smartphone. This is a better option in many ways as:
- your smartphone can use mobile data as a backup if the Wi-Fi drops out
- you usually have your smartphone in your pocket or within reach at all times
- it often includes remote access so you can check in while at work if your baby is with a relative or babysitter, for example
- it can bring the price down as you only need to pay for the monitor itself.
However, you need to keep an eye on the battery as a smartphone can drain quite quickly throughout the day. Remember, a baby monitor exists for one task, whereas you also use your phone to make calls, send messages, watch videos or go online.
Bear in mind that accessing video feeds over a mobile network will add to your monthly data usage. If you have a low data cap, limit your streaming and connect to Wi-Fi as often as possible.
The difference between a security camera and baby monitor quite often comes down to branding and aesthetics. In fact, we usually add one or two security cameras to our baby monitor tests just to see how they stack up. The main difference is almost all modern security cameras connect to your smartphone or tablet via an app via Wi-Fi or mobile data. They don't come with their own viewing device.
If you already have security cameras around the house then you may want to consider this route, however you won't get some of the baby specific features such as two way audio communication or playing a soothing tune.
Most brands let you monitor multiple cameras from within the same app, so you can simply integrate the baby's room into your existing security system. Some "smart" cameras can even hook up to your smart TV for a larger, more detailed, viewing experience.
You can turn two smartphones (or tablets) into a baby monitoring system by downloading a suitable app to each device. There are plenty of apps around to choose from, and because they only cost a few dollars they may be worth a try if you have a spare smartphone lying around.
The 'child' unit uses the device's built-in microphone and camera to check baby's sound and movements. Meanwhile, the 'parent' unit lets you keep an eye and ear on them from wherever you are.
One downside is that picture quality in dark lighting conditions can be very poor unless you turn on the phone's light, which could disturb baby's sleep.
Some baby monitors use a smartphone app instead of a proprietary viewing device.
By now you should have decided if you want
- An audio-only or audio/video baby monitor.
- A monitor with a dedicated listening or viewing device, or one that uses a smartphone app.
- The type of connection method you want to use.
Once you have those points figured out, you can start thinking about extra features and functions.
This sounds an alarm when the baby is restless, or when there is no movement after a specific length of time. This time limit will be noted in the instructions.
This is useful if the baby's room gets quite dark or if you are monitoring them at night. Just remember that the image will shown up as black and white and can have poor contrast.
Sound indicator lights
The visual sound indicators will light up to alert you when bub cries. They allow you to 'see' the noise your baby makes rather than hear it. This is particularly useful if you're talking on the phone, have visitors or you're in a noisy room, or if you or other carers have hearing difficulties. Also good if you don't want to wake up any other sleeping children nearby.
Camera mount type
There are a range of camera mounts available that let you place the camera in a variety of locations. It's very important to consider this, especially if you're in a rental property where you may not be able to screw the camera into a wall.
- Flat surface: Place the camera on a chest of drawers, changing table, windowsill and so on. This is the most common mount type.
- Clamp: Lets you attach the camera to the side of a bookshelf, top of the bassinet or floor lamp for example.
- Wall mount: Includes fitting to drill the camera into the wall. The most versatile models offer a combination of these mounts, giving you the freedom to place the camera anywhere you want, more or less.
Camera viewing angle
A shallow viewing angle will only really show what is directly in front of the camera. This isn't a bad option if you're able to position the monitor in front of the baby in such a way that it can't move out of frame.
Camera's with a wider angle will capture more of the room which is useful if placement is restricted, or you need to keep an eye on two or more kids. Also, some cameras can be controlled remotely with pan and zoom functions so you can keep better track of what's going on.
This puts a speaker in the baby monitor so you can communicate with your child from another room. It can help when the baby is restless, but you don't want to risk waking it up by going into the room where it can feel or smell you. It's also handy if you need to quickly communicate with someone in the baby's room, especially if they aren't carrying a phone.
Some models, such as the Angelcare AC510, support two-way communication.
Baby room temperature monitor
This lets you set an upper and lower temperature limit. The monitor will sound an alarm when the room temperature goes above or below them.
Gives you the option to connect additional cameras to the same account. You can place these in the same room or multiple rooms if you need to monitor two or more kids. Security cameras usually allow this through a single app, within the same manufacturer.
Lullaby mode and night light
This plays a tune into the room to gently send baby off to sleep or help it relax if it's restless. They also often include a night light for babies that don't like to sleep in the dark.
A backup option that can keep the camera rolling if the mains die or the camera is accidentally unplugged.
You can record footage from the video baby monitor in some models, though this isn't a standard feature. If it's available, then you'll need to buy an SD card to store the footage. Check the instructions and make sure you buy a card that's compatible with the monitor, particularly the class type.
Baby monitor privacy and security issues
Audio baby monitors operating on public transmission frequencies mean that anyone with a receiver (such as a two-way radio, walkie-talkie, or another baby monitor) could listen in to conversations you have near the baby monitor.
If you're using a Wi-Fi enabled baby monitor, set it up with a secure login password known only to you (separate to your local Wi-Fi password). If you don't change your camera's login password from the default (which is often blank), you risk leaving your connection vulnerable to hackers. There have been several reported cases of hackers remotely yelling at babies via unsecured Wi-Fi baby monitors, or accessing open webcam feeds that haven't been protected with a unique password.
Make sure your Wi-Fi monitor is upgraded to the manufacturer's latest firmware version to close potential security loopholes (the instructions should tell you how to do this), and that any associated smartphone apps are also up-to-date.
These are some broad points you should consider when its time to set things up
Where to put your baby monitor
Whether the monitor is audio only or audio/video, make sure it has a clear view of your child with no blind spots where your baby could exit the frame. If it supports video, watch the live feed while setting up the camera so you can find the best position. Try to put it relatively high up so you're looking down at an angle.
If the monitor uses Wi-Fi, get it as close to the router, repeater or mesh hub as possible. This will ensure a strong signal that has a lower risk of dropping out.
Try not to point the camera directly towards any windows or light sources. This could "blow out" the image (aka white out like a snow storm) and make things difficult to see, especially if you're using infrared. It also could interfere with movement detection.
Keep the monitor away from other electrical devices and anything that emits noise, if possible. Poorly built electronics don't tend to have good shielding, which can interfere with video and audio signals.
How close should the baby monitor be
This is up to you though check the instructions for manufacturer recommendations. As a guide, we position the camera and audio only devices one metre away from the "baby" during our tests.
Sensitive microphones should be positioned a bit further away, but not so far that environmental sounds start to interfere. Similarly, don't move the camera back to the point where your baby is difficult to see.
SIDS and baby monitors
There's no evidence that using a baby monitor will prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.