Would you spend $200 on an electronic device marketed as protection for your baby against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)? If you could leave the room — or even the town — and stay informed of your baby’s every breath and movement, its temperature, sleep quality, position, and rate of heartbeat and respiration, would that device bring you peace of mind and lower your new-parent anxiety level? Would you be buying true protection from all fears by simply buying and using such a device?

At the 2014 Consumer Electronic Show, smart baby monitors were huge attractions but critics say these expensive gadgets do little more than let you know if your baby is asleep or awake, in spite of the emotional marketing strategies that surround them.

The risk of SIDS is very low, happening to about 0.6 babies for every 1,000 babies born in the United States. Even so, the expected prevention of SIDS is one of the motivating factors behind selling and buying these high-tech babysitters. Reputable sources — the American Academy of Pediatrics, British National Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health — all say these expensive devices do NOT prevent SIDS. When pressed, even the device manufacturers agree.

As sales of baby monitors have risen over recent years, the rate of SIDS deaths has dropped but that’s not because of the devices. A highly effective public awareness campaign has done the trick. Parents today know to put their babies to sleep only on their backs, to remove loose and soft bedding and toys, and to not allow the baby to get too warm while sleeping. The medical community behind this public awareness campaign actually advises parents to avoid the use of commercially sold monitoring devices altogether. It’s these parenting behaviors that have caused the SIDS rate to drop, not fancy gizmos.

The fancy gizmos can even be more dangerous than life without them. Last year, two babies were strangled to death after getting the cord attached to the under-mattress sensor pads wrapped around their necks. Their deaths led the sensor pad’s manufacturer, Angelcare, to issue a voluntary recall of more than 600,000 of them.

Critics of these baby monitors are concerned that parents relying on them may grow careless and complacent, thinking falsely that the monitors will alert them to a baby’s every need. Or that the alert will come quickly enough to make a difference. We’re a society that embraces technology but many products just don’t deliver on the sales promises that make them seem so attractive and beneficial in the first place.

Source: “McRobbie, Linda Rodriquez. “Selling Fear.” Slate. The Slate Group LLC / Graham Holdings Company. Feb 20, 2014. Web. Mar 7, 2014.