How to buy the best baby monitor
By Alison Potter
Video or audio baby monitor? What about smart wi-fi monitors? And do you need analogue, digital or DECT? We help you to choose the best baby monitor for you.
The best baby monitors won't let you down when you need them the most. They'll have clear sound and pictures, a good range and signal strength, and the battery will last as long as you need it.
Most baby monitors promise all this, but our tests have found lots that don't deliver.
For example, one baby monitor we’ve tested has a battery that will barely last three and a half hours, while another can keep going for more than 18.5 hours before needing to be recharged.
Take a look at the best baby monitors to discover the models we recommend.
In this article:
- Video: how to buy the best baby monitor
- Which baby monitor to buy
- Audio vs video baby monitors
- Smart wi-fi video baby monitors
- What makes the best baby monitors
- How much do I need to spend on a baby monitor?
- My house is really small, do I need a baby monitor?
- Baby monitor strangulation risk
- Baby monitors with a motion sensor mat or pads
An audio baby monitor comprises two parts, one that stays in the nursery (baby or nursery unit) and one you keep on you, either somewhere propped up in the room you're in or clipped to your belt as you get on with other stuff while your baby sleeps.
A video baby monitor also has two parts, but the baby unit includes a camera that sends pictures back to the parent unit, so you can see your baby as well as hear them. Some are quite basic, but on more expensive models you can get cameras that pan around the room, or even zoom in.
The parent unit on a video baby monitor varies: some have a massive screen so you can get a large picture, while others are much smaller, which limits what you can see.
Which one you choose will depend on how much you want to spend and your personal preference. Some parents like to be able to see their little one breathing, while others are fine with just being able to hear if they're needed.
There’s no parent unit with wi-fi baby monitors. You see and listen to your baby on your smartphone or tablet via a compatible app.
While a parent unit on traditional baby monitors will only work in the house and maybe as far as the garden, a smart wi-fi monitor isn't constrained by signal range and can work wherever you are as long as you have decent wi-fi signal.
This means if you're missing your little one you can check in when you’re at work or away from home.
But you’ll want to get one with strong security features and encryption to ensure your feed can’t be hacked.
Check our baby monitor reviews to see which wi-fi video baby monitors are the most secure.
Our tests have shown huge differences in terms of signal range and battery life.
The worst baby monitor on test will only allow you get as far as 15 metres away before losing signal, and the battery won't even last for an evening, which essentially means it's more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to helping you look after your child.
Test out the sound clarity on a baby monitor throughout your home as soon as you buy it. Most have a variety of channels to use – useful if you live in a built-up area which will be more susceptible to interference or static.
Analogue-signal baby monitors are the most open to accidental broadcast, as this can easily be picked up on normal radios and other people's monitors. This is less likely with digital monitors, although it does still happen.
A digitally enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) baby monitor has a microprocessor designed to ensure that the only nursery sounds you can hear are those from your own nursery, not anyone else's.
Our tests check for interference from other devices, as well as assessing the clarity and volume of the sound.
The range of a baby monitor indicates how far you can travel with the parent unit and still receive an accurate signal.
Many manufacturers make bold claims when stating range – some say you'll still get a signal up to 600 metres away.
Looking more closely at these claims shows, generally, that this is the distance the signal can travel if both units are outside in an open space. This isn't much use if you mainly use your monitor indoors, or when your baby is asleep inside and you're in the garden.
We've found that on a good baby monitor you'll be able to move the parent unit more than 80 metres away from the baby (or nursery) unit without losing the signal. On a poor monitor, you won't get much further than 20 metres.
The type of property can make a difference, too. Older houses have thicker walls that can sometimes cause problems with the signal, whereas modern houses have thinner walls so the signal can travel more easily.
We test baby monitors in both types of property to find out which perform best.
You can spend less than £20 for a basic audio monitor, or more than £300 for a top-of-the-range model with multiple cameras. An expensive, feature-packed baby monitor doesn't mean it will be the perfect piece of baby safety equipment for you, so we test its key features, such as battery life and signal strength.
With Best Buys from as little as £35, there's a baby monitor you can rely on no matter what your budget is.
Some households find they can function perfectly well without a baby monitor, as any cries can be heard through an open door or thin walls. But even so, there are still reasons why you might need one:
- If you have a cat or dog, you may want to shut the nursery door.
- Gardening or laundry will take you outside, where you won’t be able to hear a crying baby.
- If you're hard of hearing, the visual element of the monitors, such as sound-sensitive lights or vibration mode, can be a big help. Our lab tests assess how accurate the sound-sensitive lights are and make sure that they increase in line with the volume output, so you don't miss when your baby needs you.
- Homeowners with thick walls will find baby monitors essential, as their house is effectively sound-proofed.
There have been reports of babies being strangled because a wall-mounted baby monitor had a dangling wire within reach of the child, or because the monitor was positioned on a surface close to the child's cot.
Always keep any wires, cords or cables well out of the way of babies and toddlers. As your baby gets bigger and older, keep checking regularly that he or she still can't reach them.
Ideally they should be placed at least a metre (or 3ft) away from a cot, crib or play area.
Some baby monitors come with motion sensors. These are marketed as a tool to protect against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death.
The motion-sensor pads or mat detects your baby's movements, even the slightest ones. If your baby stops moving for more than 20 seconds, an alarm sounds and red lights flash.
Some parents find them really reassuring, however they can cause more worry when false alarms happen, and you may find they create more anxiety.
Infant safety charity The Lullaby Trust says there's no evidence that this kind of monitoring can prevent SIDS.
Choose a baby monitor and the optional extras that will suit you and your baby best.
Find the perfect baby monitor for you and your baby with our best baby monitors.