What to Look for in a Baby Monitor

The most important factors to consider in a baby monitor boil down to audio vs. video streaming, data connections, parent units vs. smartphones, battery life, and smart monitoring options. The best baby monitor for you depends on your budget, caregiving plan, and interest in nitty-gritty details like sleep analytics.

We’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each choice below so you can check one more thing off your list before the baby arrives.


How to choose a baby monitor


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1. Video vs. audio baby monitors

Start your baby monitor search by deciding on whether you want a video monitor or an audio-only monitor.

Audio monitors are more affordable

Audio-only monitors are far more affordable than video monitors and retail in the $20–$40 range. While any budget security camera gets the job done, the best baby monitors with video retail for around $200.

Video monitors give more insight

You get more information about your baby when you can see them, like whether they’ve rolled over, have become unswaddled, or seem unusually restless.

You’ll only be able to use your sense of hearing to monitor your baby with an audio-only device, and that might still leave you wondering what’s going on in the crib.

Video and audio quality

If you want a video monitor, make sure you get one with a high-quality camera. You don’t want to see a grainy blob in the crib—you want to see every little hair on that kissable noggin! Ok, maybe that’s going a little too far—but you do want to be able to see whether your child’s still breathing and moving.

Full HD 1080p provides a good-quality picture and is easy to find among baby monitors. Night vision is also important. It doesn’t have to be colored night vision, but you might enjoy that extra detail.

Finally, look for a camera that lets you zoom in sufficiently without losing image quality.

Audio quality is also important. The sound shouldn’t be fuzzy or garbled. Most baby monitors feature two-way talk, which comes in handy for parents to communicate with each other when checking on the little one. Look for audio complaints in user reviews, or thoroughly test the monitor as soon as it arrives.

2. Closed-circuit vs. Wi-Fi connections

Next, decide how you want the baby monitor to transmit information.

A closed-circuit baby monitor offers complete privacy. There’s no way any creepy hacker can intercept the data. These monitors come with a “parent unit” that you carry around the house with you.

A Wi-Fi baby monitor uses the internet to send your baby’s audio or video footage to the parent unit—which is usually your smartphone but can also be a parent unit. There is a risk of hacking with any Wi-Fi device, but the risk can be squashed with safety measures like two-factor authentication and encryption.

Learn more about protecting your cameras from hackers.

3. Dedicated parent unit vs. smartphone app

Dedicated parent units come in handy if you have more than one kiddo to monitor. You can keep the audio and video running simultaneously on multiple parent units without getting confused about who’s upset.

Other baby monitors use a smartphone app on your phone to show you what’s going on. These are always Wi-Fi connections, though, so if you already decided you wanted a closed-circuit baby monitor, look for baby monitors with dedicated parent units.

It can also be difficult to get baby monitor apps to play continuous audio in the background—if the brand even offers that feature. It drains your phone battery and interferes with other phone functions, like making phone calls or watching videos.

Pros and cons of parent units vs. baby monitor apps

Dedicated parent unitSmartphone app
RangeAverage 600 ft.Unlimited
ConnectionClosed circuitWi-Fi
Shared accessIn-home onlyLong-distance loved ones
Continuous audioYesDifficult
Battery life3 to 24 hoursDepends on smartphone
Saved clips
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes

Some baby monitors come with both

It’s okay if you can’t decide on this one—some baby monitors come with an app and a dedicated parent unit so you can have the best of both worlds. Our favorite is the VTech VM90.

4. Battery considerations

The battery life of dedicated parent units varies considerably. If you always keep the video feed on, some parent units go kaput after just three hours. That’s okay for monitoring a nap but useless for a full night’s sleep, so expect to keep it plugged in at night.

We rarely see baby monitors with a battery life of more than 18 hours. The unit’s sensitivity and quality settings impact its battery life, so take any advertised battery range with a grain of salt.

If you use a smartphone app to monitor your baby, keep in mind that it has to run continuously in the background. If you have an older phone or already have battery issues, expect trouble. Otherwise, you can keep your phone plugged in at night.

5. Smart monitoring options

If you love data, smart baby monitoring is for you. It’s definitely not necessary to use smart monitoring to be a good parent or to have a healthy, happy baby—but it’s pretty cool.

Smart baby monitors can detect movement and breathing, analyze sleep quality, monitor room temperature and humidity, and even let you know if your baby has rolled over. But there are only a few smart baby monitors on the market, and none of them monitor everything. Check out the Nanit Pro (our pick), Miku, and Cubo AI for starters.

The major downside to a smart baby monitor is price. The up-front cost can top $300, and then you also need to budget for a monthly subscription.

FAQ

Nope! Babies are perfectly capable of squawking loudly to get your attention, but it’s easier on you and your kiddo if you can tend to them when they’re still in a semi-peaceful mindset. A baby monitor helps you listen for those gentler “I’m waking up now!” sounds even if you’re not in the same room.

As your baby grows and starts to learn how to self-soothe, a video baby monitor comes in handy so you can make sure they’re safe despite their babbles and whines.

You might not need a baby monitor if your baby sleeps in the same room as you and/or if you have a small home and can hear them from anywhere. But it doesn’t hurt to have a basic audio monitor just in case you want to step outside or turn on the TV.

Yes, the idea is to keep a baby monitor on all night to hear your baby when they start to wake up or cry. But you shouldn’t take that as gospel—if you aren’t getting good sleep with the baby monitor on, try turning it off. It basically creates white noise when your baby’s sleeping, and that can bother some people.

Your baby has one job: to be loud when they need something. They’re pretty good at it. Unless you know you’re a deep sleeper and need the baby monitor speaker on full blast to wake you up, you won’t mess up by turning off the baby monitor.

Also, keep in mind that newborns need to eat every three hours or so—even if you have to wake them up.1 Don’t wait for them to wake up on their own—set a timer for those infant feedings and use the baby monitor to make sure they don’t get agitated in the meantime.

The only downside to using a regular security camera as a baby monitor is that they don’t provide a constant audio stream to your phone. Otherwise, they work just fine as baby monitors—especially if they can send you alerts when noise is detected.

Sources

  1. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD, Nemour’s KidsHealth, “Sleep and Your Newborn,” July 2022. Accessed September 14, 2022.
Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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