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Baby monitors fall into three main categories: traditional audio; audio/visual; and sensor. The type you need depends on the needs of your particular child â?? or, more commonly, the paranoia of the particular parents.

Audio monitors are basically one-way radios that let parents monitor the noise from a child's room from elsewhere in the house, i.e. they can hear if the child wakes up or is breathing irregularly. Audio monitors then fall into two further sub-categories: analogue and digital. Analogue baby monitors were traditionally subject to interference from other household appliances, such as cordless phones, that gave off a wireless signal. While this is still true of the cheapest analogue monitors, most of today's models have more than one channel, so you can select one that is interference free. The best analogue models also incorporate technology specifically designed to lessen outside interference.

But to guarantee interference-free transmission and reception you need a digital baby monitor. Remember that a baby monitor is essentially a radio transmitter and receiver, and digital radio reception is far superior to normal radio reception. The higher-end digital baby monitors also use something called DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology) which will select a channel automatically from 120 channels and often encrypt the channels to stop any eavesdropping. These units are normally more expensive, but they guarantee interference-free transmission and often come with several useful extra features.

With both types of audio-only monitor, useful features to look out for include a reasonable number of channels, a rechargeable parent unit (much more convenient than one that takes traditional batteries), a belt clip to carry it around when you're moving round the house, a visual display that shows noise levels in the baby's room even if the sound is turned down, a low-battery indicator, a night light on the baby unit and a temperature gauge to tell if it's getting too hot or cold in the nursery (ideally it should be around 65oF at all times). Two-way transmission is also a big boon if the sound of your voice can send your little one back to sleep without you having to rush to be there in person.

Audio/visual baby monitors, as you may have guessed, let you both see and hear your baby, giving obvious added benefits such as seeing if your baby has been sick, or sleeping in an awkward position, etc. They can also be useful as your child grow up, as you can remotely check on them if they are playing by themselves in another room. The range of audio/visual baby monitors can be limited by your house layout. If your house has normal partition (or stud) walls then the range will be around the 30m most manufacturers claim. But if you live in an old house with solid internal walls, the range can be reduced considerably- especially if the signal has to pass through several walls, although if you're directly below the nursery and there's only a wooden floor between you and your baby, then reception should be just about perfect.

As with traditional audio monitors, the ability to select from a number of channels is a big bonus, not just to find the best reception, but because extra channels also allow you to add extra cameras to the system at a later date. There's also absolutely no point in selecting an audio/visual unit that doesn't come with night vision â?? it sounds obvious, but there are camera units out there that come without it, so you can't see your kid when the lights are off. If you need a portable parent unit, then look for one with a standby mode, as the AV signal can drain batteries quickly â?? good models come out of standby automatically if your baby makes a noise.

Top of the tree are the sensor baby monitors (also called respiratory baby monitors) which offer peace of mind by immediately alerting the parent if their baby's breathing becomes significantly uneven or even stops completely. These systems consist of sensitive pads that go underneath your baby's mattress, hooked up to an alarm, often combined with a traditional audio or audio/visual monitor. These are by far the most expensive to buy, but can still only be an effective added measure against cot death if combined with recommended 'Safe Sleeping' practices recommended by your doctor. Also bear in mind that many of these units become ineffective when used with thicker types of mattress, so be sure to check that any unit you buy is suitable for the mattress your baby sleeps on.

Author R. Germain
date added Tue 11 08 2009

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