What’s new in baby tech

May 1, 2016

Many years ago, when my now-grown children were babies, we had the bare necessities for raising our young ones. Cloth diapers and diaper pins, plastic bottles and NUK nipples, and the all-important windup baby swing. Now decades later, parents have an assortment of high-tech gadgets to help raise their newborns.

Many years ago, when my now-grown children were babies, we had the bare necessities for raising our young ones. Cloth diapers and diaper pins, plastic bottles and NUK nipples, and the all-important windup baby swing. Now decades later, parents have an assortment of high-tech gadgets to help raise their newborns.

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With the recent arrival of my first grandchild, I learned about all the parenting gadgets that no family should be without. Let me share my discoveries with you and make some recommendations that you might consider sharing with the parents of your patients. This is the stuff parents rarely tell you about, and with which every pediatrician should be familiar. 

Diapers

Back in the day, parents had 2 choices: disposables or cloth diapers. Cloth was more economical but messier than disposables, even with diaper liners and plastic covers to contain the wet. Because I was in residency, we opted for cloth diapers. I hated the cleanup with cloth, as well as the fact that the kids got a lot of diaper rashes. 

Disposables were for special occasions such as going on a trip or shopping. These high-tech wonders kept the kids dry and parents happy. Eventually, competing diaper brands became innovative and offered disposables for girls or boys, and some even changed color to alert parents that the diaper needed changing. The tape fasteners were terrible and rarely could be resealed, and I often resorted to duct tape to reattach diaper tabs when the need arose.

Today’s disposables are awesome. The sizes are numbers and they feature very secure, stretchable, reusable fasteners that work! I was pleasantly surprised that Huggies (Kimberly Clark Corporation, Neenah, Wisconsin) disposable diapers for young babies have a line that changes color when wet. Even contemporary cloth diapers have been improved. They now have rows upon rows of snaps that adjust the diaper size as the baby gets bigger, and they can be used with charcoal-infused or bamboo-based pads that are very absorbent and washable. These new cloth diapers fit well and prevent leaks, and when changed appropriately rarely contribute to diaper rashes.

Breast pumps, bottles, and sanitizers

Although I advise parents to invest in a good-quality electric breast pump, I admit that until recently I had been unaware of competing brands and features. My daughter told me that one of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act is that most insurance companies will provide electric breast pumps and supplies to nursing mothers. After doing a lot of investigation, my daughter purchased the Medela Freestyle Breastpump (Medela Inc, Breastfeeding US, McHenry, Illinois). It is a portable system that supports double pumping from both breasts simultaneously. 

When babies first go to breast, they suck fast and gently to stimulate milk production (stimulation phase), followed by slower and more forceful sucking (expression phase) to bring out milk faster. The Medela pump has a 2-phase system that simulates natural breastfeeding. It can be used with the Medela storage system to place breast milk in sealable bags for storage in the freezer (maximum 6 months) or refrigerator (maximum 5 days). Medela even has a system for sanitizing the reusable breast pump parts. These are placed in the Medela reusable sanitizer bag along with some water. When placed in the microwave, the steam produced sanitizes the accessories.

Although I usually don’t recommend sanitizers and believe that washing bottles in a dishwasher or washing in hot soapy water is more than adequate (as does the American Academy of Pediatrics), I do appreciate that using a sanitizer for baby bottles and supplies may reassure parents that they are doing their “best” for their baby. There are many inexpensive electric and microwave sanitizers available, and they are inexpensive, so I don’t discourage their use.

To defrost breast milk and heat it to the right temperature, my daughter uses the Philips Avent Fast Bottle Warmer The entire defrost and heat cycle takes just minutes to complete. 

NEXT: Baby swings and more

 

There has been no better innovation than the Boppy Pillow (Boppy Company, Golden, Colorado) for feeding today’s babies. The wraparound design helps mothers nurse or bottle-feed their babies comfortably, and the pillow also can be positioned to facilitate “tummy time” to strengthen the baby’s neck and back muscles. 

Baby bottles themselves are now miracles of engineering. Not only do they need to include high-tech nipples that conform to the baby’s mouth, tongue, and palate, but they also need to provide the proper flow of formula or milk. Additionally, they need to be vented to minimize the swallowing of bubbles that may result in a baby spitting (I call this “blurping”) rather than burping, and experiencing colic after feeding.

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My daughter likes the Medela bottles, and many of my patients rave about Dr. Brown’s Bottles (Handi-Craft Company, St. Louis, Missouri). In addition, many companies that make feeding systems also have apps that parents can use to track feeding. My daughter raves about the MyMedela app (for both iPhone and Android) that lets her track feeding times, time spent at the breast, or the amount of formula consumed, as well as the baby’s growth.

Baby swings and more

When my now 34-year-old twins were babies, they would fall asleep as the swing did its thing, but when the spring had uncoiled after 10 minutes and stopped, they would wake up and “Moro” startle as we rewound the device. It was not until our second child 6 years later that we had a battery-powered swing that needed no winding.

Today’s children have it so much better. Popular battery-powered or plug-in “motion” devices include the Cozy Duet swing plus rocker (Graco Children’s Products, High Point, North Carolina) that plays music and converts to a floor bouncer with an integrated overhead toy bar.

The products produced by 4moms (Thorley Industries LLC, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) that rock and comfort babies are extremely popular among my patients. These include the rockaRoo that features 5 speeds and a front-to-back motion as well as the ability to connect to a smartphone to play music of the parent’s choice. In contrast, the mamaRoo infant seat bounces up and down and sways from side to side, to simulate the motion of mothers rocking their infants (aka, the “mommy dance”). It also has built-in sounds, and it can connect via Bluetooth to smartphones so the parent can change settings without getting up from the couch when enjoying a well-deserved rest.

By the way, 4moms also sells a high-end stroller ($850) called the Origami that opens and closes at the touch of a button (only when the seat is not occupied, of course!). It features generators in the rear wheels that power daytime running lights as well as the LCD dashboard that includes an odometer, thermometer, speedometer, and cup holders. It can even be used to charge your cell phone while you stroll.

Graco also produces a portable crib called the Pack ‘n Play Playard that is a “must buy” for all parents. It is easy to deploy into its expanded state and includes a newborn seat, a changing station, and a canopy as well as an infant bassinet. The bassinet features a night-light and a built-in Soothe Surround device that plays sounds to comfort babies. There are many other companies that sell similar play-yard type enclosures. 

NEXT: Nursery video camera

 

In searching the category of “infant tubs” on the Internet, the most appealing to this high-tech grandfather is the 4moms Infant Tub that looks like a baby “spa.” It integrates a built-in thermometer to ensure the water temperature is the appropriate temperature. It also allows fresh water to flow into the baby bath and has a side drain to let dirty water flow out. The tub even has a reservoir for holding fresh water for rinsing the baby with an included rinse cup. (Bath toys are not included!)

Baby scales were not necessities years ago, and are not even today, but they are nice to have when a mother is nursing, to reassure parents that the baby is gaining weight appropriately. Withings USA (Cambridge, Massachusetts) makes a baby scale called the Smart Kid Scale that converts to a toddler scale when the child gets bigger. An app allows parents to track the growth of their child and log feedings.

Nursery video cameras

Thirty years ago, we had a nursery monitor, essentially an always-on, one-way radio that let us listen to our babies in their room while we were in our bedroom. It alerted us when they were fussy or crying, and provided some reassurance that the kids were all right. Today, many parents can use a video camera to monitor the nursery.

Next: What's new in 'connected' devices

I’ve been impressed by Withings’ Smart Baby Monitor. The monitor can pan around the nursery and zoom in on the baby. It has a nighttime LED light that can be used when it is dark in the nursery. It includes motion, sound, temperature, and humidity sensors, and it enables parents to video chat with and comfort their baby. The device also can play sounds or music, and plays a pattern of lights to entertain.

Fun and games

One of the best things about being grandparents is being able to cuddle and play with our grandchild. Fortunately, there are so many great ways to entertain, stimulate, and educate growing infants, made possible by a variety of high-tech toys.

My granddaughter loves her Baby Einstein Neighborhood Friends Activity Jumper (Kids II, Atlanta, Georgia) that lets mom and dad watch her while they are relaxing or doing chores. She is positioned facing a play station with interesting toys that are colorful, make sounds or music, flash lights, and have inviting textures. She can be rotated in the jumper to face 4 different play areas, each with different toys. The jumper has loops that give you the ability to attach age-appropriate toys of your own choosing.

She also likes her My Pal Scout and My Pal Violet stuffed toys from LeapFrog Enterprises (Emeryville, California). These high-tech wonders can be programmed with her name. They play more than 40 songs and play timed lullabies to help with sleep. The toys also include many learning activities.

Conclusion

I will revisit this topic on baby tech in the future because I purposely have not discussed the websites that offer parenting advice as well as the many smartphone applications that can help parents be better parents. 

I have learned so much from my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter in such a short time. And yes, thanks to Apple for inventing the smartphone and tablet that let grandparents FaceTime with their grandchildren. I can’t wait to get my granddaughter her first iPad! 

Acknowledgement: The author would like to thank Laura Czerlonka, James Czerlonka, Virginia Schuman, and Felicity Czerlonka for their invaluable help in the preparation of this article. 

 

Dr Schuman, section editor for Peds v2.0, is adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Lebanon, New Hampshire, and editorial advisory board member of Contemporary Pediatrics. He has nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that may have an interest in any part of this article.