Innovations in baby product design challenge old-school ways of raising baby
By Sara G. Stephens
Ever wonder why you seldom hear parents of infants yearning for “the good ol’ days?” Maybe it’s because those days didn’t offer all the “gee whiz” innovations that make parenting so much easier today. Today, improved technology and evolving definitions of parenting are changing the way we care for our babies.
Most of the innovations are technology-based, but some earn their cool points from better design and engineering. And others are pure examples of resourcefulness and creativity.
Whatever the talent or technology behind modern tools for raising babies, one thing’s for certain: Parenting will never be the same as “the good ol’ days.” And from what we’ve seen, that’s a good thing.
After the actual childbirth, a parent’s next most-dreaded moment is that of bathing their newborns. We shudder at the idea of propping this seemingly fragile, tiny creature into a tub, then devising some McGyver system of keeping our hands securely on him while simultaneously managing soaps, shampoos, washcloths—forget about the whole rinsing process and the likely alarming cries that follow. Well, the idea ranks right up there with base-jumping off the Empire State building. It’s no wonder so many parents try to strip down the fear by bathing babies in more familiar space—the kitchen sink—where they’re accustomed to the ergonomics of the facility and have at least washed a priceless piece of china in it.
And from the acceptance of this reality has sprung a refreshing alternative to bathing babies. Blooming Bath for Babies (www.bloomingbath.com) puts baby where you’re most comfortable bathing her: in the kitchen sink. The product is designed as a floral bloom whose base serves as the seat and whose ultra-soft petals hug the sink and cradle baby through a delightful bath. When bathtime is over, just squeeze out the extra water and toss the “bloom” into the dryer for 10-15 minutes (or hang dry), and it’s good to go. It sells for $39.99.
Now that you don’t have to worry about the baby-bathing nightmare, feeding baby should be a piece of cake, right? How difficult can it be to fill a bottle, then tilt its contents into a hungry baby’s mouth? That’s what we all think, until we’re dealing with mounds of spit-up and, of course, intermittent—sometimes obsessive—burping to prevent the gas, colic and earaches resulting from baby’s consuming too much air.
In another example of thoughtful engineering, Bittylab (www.bittylab.com) has come out with a baby bottle design that answers all of these feeding concerns. For starters, The Bare® air-free baby bottle dispenses the milk/formula with moving parts (similar to a syringe) to keep the inside of the bottle air- free, without air vents, to reduce air ingestion and help minimize gas/colic in babies. The bottle’s expandable nipple mimics the mechanics of breastfeeding with its shape, texture, movement, storage and delivery of milk. The result is that baby is able to control the milk flow by sucking, which cuts down on backwash (i.e., bacteria growth) and lets you feed in any position, including upright. The bottle retails for $15.50.
But not every innovation is driven by design. Sometimes the eureka moment arises from identifying currently existing parts that can be paired to provide a new solution. To be filed under “feeding-emergency essentials,” Flipple (www.babyflipple.com) is a clever idea that turns most water bottles into a baby bottle and/or a sippy bottle. You can keep a travel pack of Flipple water-bottle adapters (they sell for $6) in your car, diaper bag or purse and whip one out the next time you find you forget to pack a bottle or you just need another one.
In this same category of clever resourcefulness, we place an adorable feeding solution for the caregiver who needs to use her hands for something other than propping up baby’s bottle. Hands-Free Bunny Bottle Holder (www. infantinnovators.com), by Infant Innovators, is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” inventions that makes perfect sense. The Hands-Free Bunny Bottle holder is just that: a soft, cuddly stuffed bunny whose fuzzy ears wrap around baby’s bottle so you can free your hands for other tasks while baby keeps enjoying his meal. A bottle warmer is tucked into a velcro pouch on the bunny’s back side. You can plug it into your car’s cigarette adapter and warm baby’s bottle while you’re traveling or stuck in traffic. The warmer is Energy Star rated, with a temperature cut-off fuse that prevents the contents of the bottle from overheating. This generous bunny gives you back the use of your hands, gives baby a sense of independence and gives the planet a break (along with your wallet, at a mere $19.95).
Then there’s the feeding breakthrough that combines innovation, engineering and resourcefulness into one killer product. What Keurig did for the “I want coffee and I want it now” set, Baby Brezza’s Formula Pro (www.babybrezza.com) does for the “I want formula, and I want it now” baby. The device works just like a coffee maker—better, actually. All you do is empty your powdered formula into the airtight storage compartment, add purified water to the removable water tank, select how many ounces you need to prepare, put the bottle under the spout, press the button and voila! Your perfectly mixed bottle of formula is ready in seconds, served at the perfect temperature and consistency. Because you store the powdered mix in the device, it’s ready to go for the next feeding, and the next, etc. Formula Pro is worth every penny you spend ($159.99) and every inch of counter space it occupies.
Lillypots (www.lillypots.co.uk) is another product of sheer resourcefulness, one that actually bucks technology in favor of tradition. Hailing from the U.K., Lillypots already has built a loyal following among American moms (including some celebrities) who are keen on feeding their babies homemade baby food. Typically, these moms carefully strain meats, vegetables and fruit, then freeze them as ice cubes. The next step is to defrost the cubes at baby’s mealtime. That’s where Lillypots comes in. Rather than using a microwave, which tends to break down the food’s nutrients, health-conscious parents can heat the cubes in individual compartments in the Lillypots cookware. The cookware is like a steaming tray that you place on top of your existing saucepan. Simple and brilliant and only $29.99.
Difrax’s S-Bottle Warmer (us-en.difrax.com/) also gives the boot to the microwave with its S-Bottle Warmer. Now the S-Bottle is hands-down the coolest looking bottle we’ve seen, with a super-functional shape that keeps the teat full of milk and void of air. A valve in the base means baby swallows less air and so has less trouble with burping, vomiting, colic and earaches. The valve also prevents vacuums from being created when baby sucks and ensures a constant flow of milk. A companion to this bottle is the S-Bottle Warmer (also extremely cool-looking). This device heats milk to the correct, evenly distributed temperature in only three minutes. Once the milk reaches the ideal temperature of 37°C, the S-bottle warmer switches off automatically, preserving the nutrients in the breast milk. We’d call it the “SS Bottle Warmer,” cuz it’s super-smart.
Speaking of baby bottles, let’s not forget about the time-honored tradition of sanitizing them. Thankfully, bottle sanitizing has gone completely hi-tech with UviCube (UviCube.com), a baby bottle sanitizer that dries, disinfects and stores with the press of a button. Its highly reflective inner chamber reflects UV light in all directions, effectively killing exposed germs. Multitaskers will especially appreciate that, because, since UviCube uses UV light instead of heat or steam, it can be used to clean other personal items, electronics and toys. That’s a score for cost-justifying the product’s $249 price tag.
Few experiences are as rattling or as heart-wrenching as seeing your baby suffer—whether it’s emotionally or physically. And for babies, the two are often intertwined. When baby doesn’t feel well, he’s scared because he doesn’t understand what he’s feeling, and he’s frustrated because he can’t yet communicate to anyone what’s bothering him. Parents feel the same emotions.
Not surprisingly, technology has made significant advances in this area of childcare, starting with a staple tool in any parent’s medicine cabinet: the thermometer.
When baby is sick, she needs more than medical treatment. She also needs emotional comfort. The Apex Digital Pacifier Thermometer takes on both tasks. Besides offering the soothing benefits of a pacifier, this thermometer (priced at $8.95) is easy to read and less likely to break than a glass thermometer. It’s also water-resistant, displays a digital readout and recalls the last temperature taken.
If you want to feel like the medical officers aboard a starship, Smart Glow TemporalScanner Thermometer (www.exergen.com) is perfect for you. This thermometer captures a temperature by scanning the heat emitted via the temporal artery. In other words, no more inserting thermometers where baby doesn’t want them and won’t keep them. Simply scan baby’s forehead with the infrared thermometer and read the display (which is illuminated, so you can read it in a darkened room). The beeping sound lets you know the thermometer is busy scanning, but you can turn it off to avoid waking your sleeping child. We also like that the thermometer automatically retains the last eight temperature readings for instant recall to check on fever progression. When baby is sick, the more information you have, the better. This thermometer makes it easy, letting you rest more—and better. That’s peace of mind worth the $49.99 price tag.
Moving past the analytics and on to making baby feel better, Duux Ultrasonic Air Humidifier with Night Light (www.pishposhbaby.com) offers effective relief packaged in cheery devices shaped like fun, friendly mushrooms. As far as technology goes, these $100 humidifiers use ultrasonic technology to create cold mist within a single second. Just pour water into the holding tank (maybe add a few drops of aroma for baby’s added sensory enjoyment) and dial the switch to the desired misting level for instant relief. This humidifier uses 80% less power than other humidifiers, providing parents financial relief, too. A nice touch, the soft night light helps babies feel safe in the dark, and the bright colors make for great baby eye-candy during the daytime.
Technology and the global economy go hand-in-hand. There’s no time like the present to ramp up your baby for the world’s shrinking borders, and what better place to start than with basic language skills? Smart Coos (smartcoos.com) web-based language learning product for babies and children, newborns to age eight, creates an e-learning language community for babies and children by providing their parents with books, videos and tutors on its subscription-based website. The site offers programs in four languages: French, English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Subscriptions include language-learning tools, weekly language sessions with a Smart Coos language totor, books that are read aloud in the provided languages and “snack-size” language videos accompanied by sign language for preverbal children. Think of it as the Rosetta Stone for babies and toddlers, at $45/month.
Admittedly, for babies (and many adults) the line between technology and magic is easily blurred. Is it technology or is it magic? Who cares, so long as we’re learning, and especially if we’re having fun while we’re doing it. The Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Chair (www.fisherprice.com) is activated when baby sits and stands, prompting songs and phrases to sound, entertain and actually teach little tikes. A light-up “remote” and a flip book teach baby about numbers and shapes, and the seat features a lift-up cushion where Tiny Tim can tuck all his special toddler toys. Because the chair uses Fisher Price’s Smart Stages™ learning technology, the teaching content updates automatically, or you can update it manually as baby grows through different stages. Oh, and don’t forget, it’s a chair. So your tiny tot can use it for sitting. That’s a lot of techno bang for $39.99.
Childhood is full of “firsts”—the first swimming lesson, the first plane ride, the first trip to the dentist, the first haircut; the list goes on. While parents celebrate each discovery, many kids find these new experiences somewhat scary. Now there’s an educational way to turn fear into fun and confidence. Luca Lashes (www.lucalashes.com/) is a line of apps and interactive eBooks for children that are based on a boy with magic eyelashes that give him special, brave powers. Follow Luca as he and his parents conquer fearful firsts, from brushing his teeth to visiting mommy in the hospital. a parents’ section at the back of each book highlights key teaching concepts and offers questions parents can use to prompt learning opportunities. The concepts are mirrored in the user experience as kids and parents interact with the works and illustrations. These iPad apps for preschoolers and toddlers are priced at $2.99 and are available in Chinese, English, French, Italian and Spanish.
Kidoodle.TV (www.kidoodle.tv) is an on-demand video service for kids from infant to 12 years old. Kidoodle.TV has great entertaining and educational content from the likes of Hasbro, DHX, National Geographic and more, while also boasting a unique and robust set of parental tools, curfews and viewing time limits. It gives parents peace of mind and total control, while letting kids feel like they are in charge of their entertainment. You can get Kidoodle.TV for only $4.99 a month (with gift subscriptions available) and it is available for PC, Mac and Apple and Android devices, making it great for keeping kids entertained, even learning, anytime and anywhere.
“I can’t tell… is he moving?” We’ve all been there, staring at the video monitor or hovering over the crib, trying to detect those often imperceptible movements that tell us baby is okay. It’s an anxiety-driven task, and one you can scratch off your endless to-do list with today’s hi-tech monitoring solutions.
Angelcare’s Touchscreen Movement & Sound Monitor (angelcarebaby.com), $139.99 package comes with a sensor pad you slide under baby’s mattress, so you can know within 20 seconds if no movement is detected in the crib. The nursery unit sends all the sounds baby makes to the portable parent unit—which even comes with an audio “tic” option so you know it’s working and a “vibration” mode so the alarm won’t disrupt precious quiet time. You can change the settings on the Angelcare monitor using the LCD touchscreen and intuitive user interface. The sweet “angel” nursery unit does double duty as a nightlight you can adjust from your portable parent unit. It also comes with a two-way walkie-talkie feature that lets you soothe your baby from another room.
Did you paint clouds on baby’s nursery walls? For $149.99, DXA’s Cloud SmartCam Video Monitoring system (seeing-cam.commonitor) lets you store baby’s activity there—kind of. This monitor lets you watch anything, anywhere from your smartphone or tablet, and is fully Wi-Fi enabled. The monitor is easy to set up and features two-way audio, so you can communicate with baby. It also lets you store activity in the cloud.
Also riding the Wi-Fi train is D-Link’s Wi-Fi Baby Camera (dlink.com), which transforms your mobile device into a versatile baby monitoring solution, letting you stay connected to baby no matter where you are. With 720p HD resolution, night vision, two-way audio and motion, sound and temperature detection, the D-Link Wi-Fi Baby Camera is a complete baby monitoring solution. You can keep tabs on baby remotely with a 3G/4G/wireless connection via the mydlink Baby Mobile App. It also has a micro SD card slot for on-board recording. A few nice bells and whistles include push alerts, customizable color rings to match the nursery, and it even plays lullabies for baby. The system sells for $129.99.
Every expectant mother walks out of her baby shower with more baby onesies than any other gift. Wouldn’t it be nice if just one of those onesies was actually a baby monitor? Rest Devices’ Mimo Smart Baby Monitor (mimobaby.com) kit is composed of three organic cotton kimono outfits embedded with sensors, a WiFi-enabled Lilypad, and a Bluetooth toy turtle. The kimono and turtle work together to detect baby’s movement, respiration, body position, skin temperature and activity levels, while the Lilypad acts as a WiFi base station, complete with a microphone. You set up the kit in baby’s crib, then download either a free iPhone or Android app that lets you view all sorts of data gathered by Mimo, including the number of times baby turns over in her sleep, her breathing rate, etc. In a day of wearable tech, the Mimo deserves kudos for making baby tech important and useful. Packages cost $199.99 and include three Mimo Kimonos, one LIlypad base station and one Turtle.
Also wearable, the Sproutling Baby Monitor (www.sproutling.com) not only relays what baby is currently doing, but also senses, learns and predicts baby’s unique sleep patterns, mood and room conditions. Made up of a wearable band, a smart charger and a mobile app, the monitor gathers 16 different measurements every second to help parents understand things like: if the baby’s heart rate is higher or lower than usual; when the baby is most likely to wake up; if the baby is sleeping on his/her back or rolling over on his/her tummy; if the baby is calm, fussy or angry when he/she wakes up; if it’s too bright or too loud in the room for the baby to sleep comfortably; and if it’s warmer or cooler than the baby’s ideal room temperature. Sproutling is accepting pre-orders (priced at $249) on its website for delivery in March 2015.
For the ultra-portable baby monitoring solution, look no further than MonBaby Smart Baby Monitor (monbaby.com). Essentially a smart button you can snap on to any typical pajama, onesie, or t-shirt, MonBaby connects to your iPhone or Android through the Smart Baby Monitor App and provides real-time view of and movement information on your baby. Not sure you snapped the button on correctly? The monitor has sensors to actually confirm the device is in place and to alert you if it has been dislodged. Want to turn the monitor off? Just remove it from its snap. It also has an audible alert if for any reason your baby stops breathing during the night. The sensors on the smart button are precise enough to detect the faintest movement of a baby’s breath, and the MonBaby takes the proactive approach to let you know if that movement is not detected. Put simply, it’s a snap. We think this monitor’s a steal at $99 (pre-order) or $119 thereafter for its sheer convenience.
If multifunctional devices are your thing, check out Presence (presencepro.com), a baby monitor from People Power that graduates to a home security system you even can use to monitor your home energy consumption. With the addition of Monster Plugs, Presence can help parents keep track of how much they are spending on energy each month and even allows them to remotely turn appliances on and off, all from their smartphone. The free version of the app features motion detection and video notifications, video chatting and alerts. A pro version is available for purchase weekly, monthly or yearly ($49.99 yearly, $4.99 monthly and 1.99 for a seven-day pass of Presence Pro Video). Presence Pro features include five-minute recordings, two GB cloud storage, faster camera resets and customizable notifications.
How much time do you spend taking previous photos of baby—time-capsule images that never make it off your phone or Flickr account? Using BabyBook (candobaby.com), a free iPhone app from CanDoBaby!, you can create a photo baby book of your child’s milestones. The app includes a fun guide of important childhood milestones, so you can track and record those precious moments as your child grows. From there, just click to pair these moments with photos, and BabyBook does the rest. The result is a beautiful keepsake—a 30-page professionally printed photo baby book ($25)—created and ordered straight from the iPhone. Since it’s created completely from your iPhone, you can make a baby book while playing on the floor with your baby, watching TV or even sitting in that boring meeting at work. It’s the way 21st-century parents are creating baby books.
Everyone wants to bond with the baby in your belly. They want to touch your belly, lay their heads on your belly and sing sweet nothings to your belly. You can thank technology—and Bellybuds—that there’s now another way to bond—one that’s more effective and less invasive. The $49.99 Baby-Bump Sound System (bellybuds.com) from Bellybuds presents a specialized speaker system that plays sound directly to your womb. The company offers a free recording network, VoiceShare, that lets family and friends, wherever their location, record a message that then can be played to baby via the Bellybuds. Bellybuds has also launched a new album, “Mozart for Mother and Child,” downloadable for free with each purchase of Bellybuds Deluxe unit. All songs were recorded by a trio of award-winning musicians on the guitar, piano and cello, which are among the instruments recommended by music therapists to be developmentally appropriate for babies. Considering that a baby’s hearing develops in utero at about 20 weeks, and studies have shown that memories begin at 30 weeks, why not start shaping baby’s world now?
When you’re pregnant you try everything you can to ensure your unborn baby’s health. You avoid certain activities that might be harmful to your developing child—no hot tubs, scuba diving or alcohol. But should you add cell phones to the list? A cell phone uses radiofrequency waves, a form of electromagnetic radiation, to transmit messages to and from cell towers. According to the National Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these waves are the same as those your microwave generates to heat food. They’re generated by any electrically charged objects, such as cell phones, microwave ovens, the cable box, router, television, stereo, computers, Wi-Fi and other electronics. One way to counteract the disruptive effects of EMFs is by using Energy Tools International’s EMF Transformer (energytoolsint.com). In third-party laboratory tests, EMF Transformers(tm) counteracted the disruptive effects of brain overstimulation caused by smart phones. They work on all WiFi and electronic devices, so you can stick one on to your smart phone and every other electronic device you own. They are priced at $42.
Keepin ‘em moving
Given the fact that we rock—not swing—babies to sleep in our arms, doesn’t it make sense to rock—not swing—them to sleep in “a swing?” The rockaRoo™ (www.4moms.com) is 4moms’ answer to the swing conundrum. Imagine a baby swing turned upside down and its daddy-long legs shrunk down to the floor. With the press of a button, it rocks like a rocking horse, which maximizes the sensation of motion for your baby. The rocking motion regulates breathing and slows heart rate, which makes your baby feel more relaxed and calm and also regulates sleep patterns, helping your baby fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer. If music soothes your “savage beast,” just plug your smart phone or mp3 player into the rockaroo base to let lullaby tunes play from the speakers and send baby sweetly off to sleep. The hours of rest and enjoyment for baby—and you—easily cost-justify The $159.99 investment.
When “soothing by moving” means riding in the car, the Cool Mee Car Seat Liner (meenobabies.com) provides extra traveling comfort. The liner is made from state-of-the-art, three-ply poly-mesh material that promotes airflow between your child’s body and their seat. Warm air escapes to prevent overheating and perspiration, keeping baby cool and comfortable. Prices start at $39.99.
Nothing is more important to a baby’s health and happiness than mom’s or dad’s warm, loving touch. And the easier it is to tackle feeding, bathing, teaching and protecting, the more time and energy we have for snuggling, cuddling and rocking. So to baby product developers everywhere, we say, “Hats off to innovation… keep it coming!”