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Washable baby bootie doubles as breathing monitor

In the first couple days of its crowdfunding campaign, the Owlet baby monitor raises more than a third of its goal of $100,000. The monitor measures heart rate, oxygen levels, skin temp, sleep quality, and more.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
The Owlet Vitals Monitor includes a four-sensor pulse oximeter and accelerometer to measure several health metrics. Owlet Baby Care

I confess: the first morning of my baby's life I woke up with a jolt, terrified that because I'd slept so soundly she was surely no longer breathing.

Irrational? Yes, but it's an all-too-common fear those first weeks of a newborn's life -- especially for those of us who have read the stats on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is the leading cause of death among babies in the US and claims the lives of almost seven infants every day.

While not a video monitor, the vitals monitor provides a far clearer snapshot of a baby's health than video footage can. Owlet Baby Care

Enter the Owlet Vitals Monitor, which just two days into its crowdfunding campaign has raised more than a third of its $100,000 goal. (After being rejected by Kickstarter, the "self-starter" campaign is being run on the monitor's own Web site.)

The monitor, which is waterproof and tucks into a washable baby bootie, comes equipped with an accelerometer and four-sensor pulse oximeter to measure several health metrics, including heart rate, oxygen levels, body movement, skin temperature, and overall sleep quality.

Founded in 2012 by engineer and now father-to-be Kurt Workman, who was at least in part motivated by having lost a cousin to SIDS, the start-up Owlet Baby Care plans to sell each unit for $199 as early as November. (Early-bird units are currently $149.)

"Our situation is different than most campaigns: If we don't deliver our product on time, then it loses value for parents," Workman said in a news release, referring in part to the fact that most SIDS deaths happen between two and four months of age, making every passing week count. He adds that Owlet has already been working with its American manufacturers for two months, with the electronics fully functional and ready to be mass produced.

The monitor works alongside an iPhone app -- which is currently going through Apple's approval process -- that tracks sleep quality over time and alerts a caregiver if the baby rolls over. (Since the "Back to Sleep" campaign launched in the 1990s, SIDS deaths have dropped by more than 50 percent.)

The Owlet is in the midst of the FDA process to add an alarm, among other features, to version 2.0 so that parents can be notified when heart rate or oxygen levels drop below a certain point. The Owlet folks say they expect to get clearance by 2015.

While it may be tempting for some to say that such high-tech baby monitors play on new parents' fears, SIDS deaths are real and being able to be notified when one's child has stopped breathing could not only provide peace of mind, but save lives, too.