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Knowing when to stop using a baby monitor – a guide for parents

When to stop using the baby monitor - featured. A baby monitor camera and screen on a table in the foreground with a toddler in a crib in the background

Should you still be using tech to keep an eye on your little one? We discuss the right time to move away from sleep monitoring

The decision to stop using a baby monitor can seem like a major milestone in your parenting journey, akin to their first day at nursery or ending breastfeeding. It can be an acute reminder that your little one is getting older, becoming bigger and more independent by the day, and, for many, this can be a double-edged sword – both a cause for celebration and the source of some sorrow.

Potentially adding to these conflicted feelings, you might be wondering at what age you should stop using the baby monitor. While there are no official rules as to the ‘correct’ age, most experts agree that somewhere between two and four years old is appropriate.

“Transitioning away from using a monitor for your child between the ages of two and four can align with their developmental milestones”, says Dr Amanda Gummer, a research psychologist specialising in child development, as well as the bestselling author of Play: Fun Ways to Help Your Child Develop in the First Five Years, and the founder of the Good Play Guide.

“During these years, children are not only refining their sleep patterns but also engaging in imaginative and exploratory play and activity during the day and at bedtime”, she explains. “By phasing out the use of a monitor gradually, parents can foster a sense of security for their own peace of mind and also encourage their child’s independence and creativity whilst managing a sleep routine.”

Below, we explore the practical, psychological and developmental factors that should factor into your decision to move away from using a baby monitor.

When to stop using a baby monitor

According to the experts we consulted, three key considerations may influence whether the time has come to pack away your device:

It’s no longer necessary

One of the main reasons parents start using a monitor in the first place is to provide them with a little reassurance that their baby is safe and well, particularly during that anxiety-ridden first year when SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, formerly known as cot death) is a rare, but understandably scary, possibility. However, after that first year, that risk has significantly reduced – and the need to continue monitoring them reduces with it.

“Once the child is easily able to shout out, or come and see the parent should they need assistance, the monitor may not be necessary”, says Anna Mathur, a psychotherapist specialising in parental mental health.

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It’s affecting your mental wellbeing

Do you keep the volume on your baby monitor turned all the way up, even though you can hear them cry out without it? Or are you continually checking on your child while they sleep, whether by looking at the monitor or by popping into their room? If so, you could be operating from a place of fear rather than practicality, according to Anna Mathur.

“Reasons of fear are worry-based”, she says. “They tend to focus on statistically rare likelihoods – perhaps you’ve heard a tragic story and feel scared something may happen to your child.” She cautions that this can lead to anxiety, rumination or intense worry.

These negative impacts of monitoring your child are certainly familiar to writer and journalist Sophie Brickman, author of Baby, Unplugged: One Mother’s Search for Balance, Reason and Sanity in the Digital Age and the forthcoming novel Plays Well With Others.

“For sure, there are some who gain a measure of calm by being able to see their child on a video monitor”, she says. “But, by and large, my research showed that the presence of technology amped up often unfounded fears of dangers that existed more in the parents’ head than in the real world.”

She adds: “You’d be surprised at how quickly you stop feeling the need to check the video feed once you’ve decided to let it go.”

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It’s disrupting your sleep

Parents typically accept that sleep deprivation is part and parcel of caring for an infant. However, once your child gets older and settles into a more predictable sleep routine, having a monitor by your bed can affect your ability to get some much-needed shuteye – kids can be noisy sleepers, after all.

When to stop using baby monitor. A toddler sleeps with a lamp, teddy bear and baby monitor in the background

“Parents may experience disrupted sleep if the child makes the usual coughs, grumbles and dream-talk”, says Mathur. She also warns that these sounds might cause parents to respond unnecessarily – disturbing the child’s sleep as well as the parents’.

When to keep using a baby monitor

There are certain circumstances – typically related to your child’s stage of development, or your feelings towards their growth – that may lead you to keep the monitor, at least for the time being.

You can’t always hear your child call when they need you

If your child still has cause to get your attention when they’re in bed – for example, if they need help going to the toilet – but you struggle to hear them calling, continuing to use a monitor can help avoid upset.

The thought of not being able to monitor them causes you anguish

Although, as we explored earlier, the continued use of a monitor could negatively affect your mental health, for some people the very thought of quitting might be enough to provoke anxiety.

If this rings true for you, Mathur suggests reducing your reliance on the device gradually: “Parents can wean themselves off monitor use if they want to by reducing the volume or sensitivity of the monitor night-by-night, or moving it further away from their bed.”

Crucially, she adds: “If anxiety or previous traumatic experience is playing a part, then I would encourage some therapeutic support.”

Your child has additional needs

“Families with children with additional needs or sensory sensitivities – or, in fact, any unique behavioural circumstances – will benefit from ongoing monitor use for reassurance, comfort and safety”, advises Dr Gummer.

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Final thoughts

Ultimately, the decision to stop using a monitor is one that parents need to make on their own terms.

“Remember that each child is different”, says Dr Gummer. “Some children might thrive as they grow older and monitoring is reduced, whilst others may benefit from continued reassurance.

“It’s important that parents don’t get caught up in thinking about what their friends or other family members are doing, and be comfortable to assess their own feelings about phasing out using a baby monitor.”

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