Mothers of newborns like Stephanie Hinkaty say a baby monitor offers peace of mind.
"It's really comforting to know what's going on with the baby without having to be physically in the room with her. It, you know, gives me a sense of security," said Hinkaty.
But choosing the right monitor could mean the difference between true comfort and a false sense of security.
Consumer Reports tested 10 baby monitors ranging in price from about $25 for a basic unit to more than $200 for a more elaborate video setup. They found the more expensive models aren't always the best, and some can be as temperamental as a crying baby.
Interference is one of the biggest complaints from parents, so Consumer Reports recommends getting a unit that's digital.
If you want to unplug your monitor and take it with you, battery life is key, and there were big differences. The battery charge on the Safety 1st True View Color Video Monitor didn't even last three hours. But the Sony BabyCall NTM-910Dual kept going for 28 hours.
Consumer Reports also found that signal strength really varied.
To evaluate, testers set up a transmitter near a soundtrack of a crying baby. Then they measured how far away they could move the monitor while still maintaining contact.
"All the monitors worked inside the test house, but if you have a larger home or if you want to do yard work during naptime, it may be a different story," said John Galeotafiore, Consumer Reports associate director of home improvement.
Some monitors lost contact before the tester even stepped out of the house, just 37 feet. But a few monitors worked as far away as 400 feet.
Among those is top-rated Philips Avent SCD510 for $120. It's digital, so interference is not a problem, and it had excellent battery life.
Rounding out the list of the top five baby monitors ranked by Consumer Reports:
- Graco Imonitor Vibe Single Parent Unit: $53.99-$71.99
- Graco Imonitor Vibe Double Parent Unit: $89.99
- The First Years True Choice Premium P300: $42-$60
- The First Years True Choice Premium P400: $63-90
Consumer Reports cautioned there have been several cases of accidental strangulation when babies pulled the transmitter cord into the crib. So even if your child is not yet standing or crawling, it's essential to keep the transmitter well out of reach.