Preparing for the day your baby comes home from the hospital feels like an impossible task. You’re writing a list and checking it twice, but every single thing that’s on it is entirely alien to you – as is the new life chapter on which you are about to embark. Muslins x 20, read my list, breast pads x infinity, short-sleeved vests x 7, swaddle x 2, scratch mitts x 2. I remember panicking that I had no idea when I would need most of it, and in what order.
Those were just the basic items but, as my due date closed in, I also browsed the less traditional, high-tech newborn “essentials” that had been recommended to me by the more seasoned parents in my life, and on social media.
There is a huge amount of innovation out there – some available at unfathomable prices – that promises you it will revolutionize your parenting experience. It tantalizingly dangles the things you crave most as a mother or father: sleep, peace of mind, good health, and more time to relax (where are these relaxed parents, I’d like to meet them).
I wanted an easier life of course and so, gradually, a few more expensive bits filtered onto my list alongside the wipes and nappy bins – a Gro Egg room thermometer (£32.99) which would tell me when the room was too hot or cold for my baby by glowing red or blue, for example, and a SnuzCloud Baby Sleep Aid (£29.95) which I could attach to my baby’s crib to play “relaxing waterfall noise or (the one I found slightly disturbing) a heartbeat to soothe him to sleep.
I’m not alone in splashing out on baby tech. So invested are parents in having the full bells-and-whistles-360-degree parenting experience that the global market for baby products was estimated at US$11.7bn (£9.65bn) in the year 2020, and is projected to reach US$15.6bn (£12.8bn) by the year 2026.
Some of this kit has been dubbed baby “fear gear”, because it is designed to offer parents not just peace of mind and sleep but, in some cases, a promise of an increased sense of safety and protection for the thing they care most about in the world. There are monitors, like the Nanit (£229), which can track a baby’s breathing and sleep patterns, or a £400 Cybex car seat that notifies you if your child unbuckles the clip, is too warm or is seated too long.
All of this stuff taps into a very basic desire to want your baby to be safe. SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is every parent’s worst nightmare (and one which hung over me like a concrete cloud for the first six months of my baby’s life, at least). But even if there are things you can buy to reduce the risk of tragedy or harm, should you?
It’s ultimately every parent’s individual decision, not to mention dictated by their financial situation. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, the thing about being a parent is that you simply have less money to play with than you ever did before. The price of nappies has gone up by 60 percent in the past year, as the cost of living crisis bites, while infant formula has gone up by 22 percent in the past year.
So if you want to invest in something, it really has to pay its way. After my baby was born, and I found my free time and sleep hours all dissolving, I fell into a habit of Amazon shopping items I thought would help make my life easier. And some of it did! While I decided not to buy one of the breath-tracking sleep monitors (I knew I’d never get a moment’s sleep because I’d be checking it non stop) I did buy Hubble smart scales (£49.99), which also double as a changing mat, for my son after he lost a lot of weight in week one and we were readmitted to hospital. I found it very reassuring to know that he was gaining weight well after using the Hubble app.
Some of the gizmos make bigger claims than reassurance though, and I learned to be wary of anything which promised me better sleep. I heard amazing things on TikTok about the Snoo, the smart cot which claims to be able to identify your baby fussing using an advanced algorithm (which differentiates that sound from general room noise) and then uses its in-built motor to rock your baby, while playing white noise, even when you are asleep.
The Snoo website says the crib, developed with Dr. Harvey Karp (author of Happiest Baby on the Block) can settle your baby in “under a minute”. If that sounds too good to be true, it’s probably because it will cost you £1,195 to find out. We didn’t do that, so I can’t be sure of the outcome but I think I can say one thing for sure and that is a motor operated crib would not have been some magic cure all to get my son to sleep (that took a lot more feeding, cuddling, white noise, shushing and jigging – and often a 40-minute drive around the park in the car).
It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by sleep tech and apps, especially when you’re struggling. I paid for the £8.99 a month premium subscription to the Huckleberry app during a particularly painful four month sleep regression. I was dutifully logging every single minute of his sleep (even writing this, I can’t believe I did it), which I suppose made me feel like I was vaguely more in control but I don’t think it really made any meaningful difference for me
I considered buying the TikTok famous Hatch Rest+, the £144 sound machine and night light, but discovered my baby was a sucker for “8-hour white noise first-class airplane cabin” on Spotify, which I played via our Alexa instead.
Now, 10 months into my parenting journey, the main tech I still rely on is the equipment I bought to help me feed my son. I began combi-feeding after a rough start with breastfeeding thanks to a tongue tie, and the Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep machine (£79.99) makes bottles in an instant (we call it the Baby Nespresso) which saves a lot of time in the long run, as does the UV sterilizer we bought (£84.99).
I found that there is a fine line to be trodden when it comes to smart tech, apps and electronic wizardry – and it’s impossible to know which will help you in the long run unless you try them for yourself because every baby is different. One bit of wisdom you can share with other parents-to-be, however, is that while they might make your life a bit easier, none of them will make you feel rested. Only a fleet of real life nannies would do that.