It sounds like it belongs in a hospital: A one-piece garment that measures a baby’s heart beat and vital signs, and shares the data on a network. But it’s just a onesie, coming to a baby registry near you.
The Exmobaby may sound like an extreme clothing line, but it’s a predictable extension of the baby safety gear industry, growing since the monitor made its staticky debut in the 1980s.
The market is saturated with products that prey on the primal fears that come with first-time parenthood: Special baby spoons that change colour if a meal is too hot; an alarm that reminds you not to leave your baby in the car; a special crib mat that transmits information about an infant’s heart beat and movements to a receiver in another room, where parents sit, waiting to be alarmed. And, just in case a crib mat is too far from your baby’s skin, there’s the Exmobaby – a onesie that claims to capture data that will help predict when a baby will be fussy, or need feeding.
“This product is for first-time moms who are afraid,” says David Bychkov, the chief executive officer of Exmovere, the Virginia company producing the Exmobaby. “How do you deal with fear? You deal with fear by giving information and confidence.”
But some experts say products that mediate the parent-baby relationship may actually make it harder, not easier, for first-time parents to become comfortable in their new roles and trust their instincts.
“Imagine having to rely on that [product]instead of looking at your baby and holding your baby and reading your baby’s cues?” says Sarah Chana Radcliffe, the author of Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice, who counsels parents in her Toronto psychology practice.
“A parent is ideally supposed to do something called attunement – look into the baby’s eyes, look at the colour of its skin, read its non-verbal cues, and open up a dialogue that is the basis for all healthy relationships.”
It could be argued that a few sleepless nights of actually sitting next to your child’s crib might alleviate parental angst more quickly, cheaply and rationally – and aide your baby’s healthy development, she adds.
Robert Marion, chief of genetics and developmental medicine at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York, called the Exmobaby pyjamas “crazy,” and said they will increase, not decrease, parental anxiety. He told The New York Times that outside of those few children who need ongoing cardiopulmonary monitoring, using a system like this is “looking for trouble.”
“Such systems malfunction all the time,” he said. “They erroneously go off at all hours of the day and night, causing families unbelievable anxiety. Families wind up focusing all of their energies on the monitors and wind up not sleeping.”
Claire Tsai, a marketing professor at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, says appealing to fear is common to this product category. A principle called “anticipated regret” plays a big role, she says, especially when it comes to products that purport to carry some safety benefit. “You don’t want to kick yourself, for saving a few bucks.”
First-time parents are especially susceptible, she adds. “People feel very nervous about the first child because they know nothing and they want to be perfect,” she says. “They don’t want to make mistakes.”
She says the rise of the one-child family may be another factor. “They’re will to spend a lot of money on this child – it’s not like they have to feed 10 kids.”
Mr. Bychkov says feedback on the Exmobaby, which will retail for about $150 for a pack of four (plus a monthly wireless charge) in Canada by the end of the year, has been positive, and that it can help parents connect with their babies. It can also save data on baby’s development milestones and mood patterns. “That is precious and that is important and that is something that will make moms feel more connected, confident about how they’re dealing with their baby.”
Jacob Weinstein, who wrote the parenting-book parody How Not To Kill Your Baby, remains skeptical about the safety genre.
“I've actually seen a helmet for sale that your kid is supposed to wear the entire time he's learning to walk, in case he falls and bumps his head. That's vital safety equipment if you live in a house built of diamond-studded concrete in an earthquake-prone region, but for everybody else, it’s a little excessive.”
The Exmobaby goes even farther, he says. “This is the kind of thing that makes me think about getting out of the parody business, because I can’t get more absurd than reality,” the father of two wrote in an e-mail from his London home.
“The only thing that's missing is Twitter integration, so your friends can get instant notification every time your baby poops.”