Bringing up baby: Should parents trust high tech? Infant: A new parent compares digital wonders to old-fashioned standbys.


The Digital Age has spawned many wonders, including a slew of new products and services for new parents.

From see-in-the-dark crib-monitoring systems and remote-controlled musical soothers to digital thermometers and online infant-supply stores, baby-raising has gone high-tech in a big way.

Of course, such products and services aren't necessarily better than traditional alternatives, some of which have served parents well for centuries.

So, should moms and dads get with the digital '90s or stick with the tried-and-true? To find out, I surrounded my months-old son (henceforth known as Baby) with an assortment of beeping and blinking gadgets. I also jumped on the Internet to do a bit of baby-related shopping.

Here, then, are the adventures of Baby and Digital Dad:

Baby monitoring. In voluntary exile on the living-room couch so Baby could sleep alongside his mommy and breast-feed in comfort, I felt forlorn because of the wall that separated me from the tyke.

Evenflo and Safety 1st came to my rescue. The two baby-product companies have just released bedroom-monitoring systems that incorporate gee-whiz features for keeping tabs on sleeping babies.

The $150 Safety 1st Child View Monitor and Television is the most futuristic. Consisting of a small black-and-white TV/monitor and a lightweight night-vision camera, it allowed me to watch Baby even with the bedroom lights switched off. I could see him clearly - amazing.

The system works well in daylight, too. My wife and I had a ball watching Baby squeak and hoot in his crib while we ate lunch in the kitchen.

The $65 Evenflo Monitor and Intercom system is nice, too. Consisting of two audio units resembling walkie-talkies, it allowed me to listen to Baby's grunts of pleasure as he fed in the wee hours.

The system also has an intercom function. I sent Baby soothing )) words while pressing the "push-to-talk" button on the living-room unit.

Remote controlling. As Baby zoomed past his three-month birthday, he began paying attention to his surroundings. He became fascinated by a mobile with bears on strings that hovers over his crib, for instance.

I wondered if he would like electronic animals, as well. Enter the $35 Fisher-Price Slumbertime Soother with Remote Control, a unit that hangs inside a crib and illuminates little cartoon critters in sequence while playing a variety of tunes.

Activated from afar with a child-friendly remote control, the device seemed liked the perfect product for entertaining Baby and lulling him to sleep (it also plays nature sounds).

He is a traditionalist, as it turns out. He is far more fascinated by his hands, the colorful patterns on his crib bumper and an assortment of hanging toys than any gizmo.

I found another remote-control system invaluable, however. After juggling separate remotes for the VCR, stereo and TV as I tried to entertain Baby with Disney videotapes, the Teddy Bear Band and "Time for Teletubbies," I realized I needed a single "universal" clicker.

Digital temperature-taking. Digital thermometers seem like an ideal tool for fretting first-time parents, but not all such devices work well with infants.

My wife and I were initially thrilled when we spotted a Braun ThermoScan Instant Thermometer at a bargain price (at the supermarket, of all places).

But, though the device works well for taking the temperatures of adults and older children, we found it nearly useless for our infant. It registered inaccurately high temperatures, alarming us until we got correct readings at the doctor's office.

Because Baby's tiny ear canal can't properly accommodate the thermometer's tip, the device is unable to take a proper reading of the infrared heat generated by his eardrum, our pediatrician explained.

This contradicted Braun's written claim that the ThermoScan provides an "easy, accurate way to measure temperature of infants and toddlers."

In any case, the doc advised us to use an ordinary mercury thermometer.

Online Shopping. After months of stress-inducing infant-raising that included spur-of-the-moment trips to the supermarket for baby supplies, I needed a break. So, I decided to stock up on diapers and detergent without leaving my home.

My visit to NetGrocer ( was my first tentative dalliance with e-commerce. And, despite my wife's fears that hackers would intercept our credit-card number and bleed us dry, this experiment went reasonably well.

I ordered four packages of Huggies Ultratrim diapers ($6.44 each) and three 100-ounce bottles of Era Ultra laundry detergent ($4.68 each). Total bill, including shipping charges: $42.79

I saved money, as it turned out. I recently paid $5.59 for a bottle of Era and $6.99 for a package of Huggies at Rainbow. Three of the former and four of the latter, plus $2 for bus fare, would have run me $46.73.

But shopping on NetGrocer was anything but pleasurable. Pages were excruciatingly slow to load and didn't fit properly within my browser window. The site didn't give adequate information about each product. Transferring items to my electronic "shopping cart" seemed to take an eternity.

NetGrocer should emulate the online bookstore (, which has quick-loading pages and superlative customer service.

Shortly after placing my NetGrocer order, I bought a novel on Amazon. It arrived in 48 hours even though I was told to expect shipment in three to seven days. But my NetGrocer purchase didn't arrive until Friday.

Good thing Baby had a few extra packages of Huggies.

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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