It's a sound new parents know all too well: The middle-of-the-night wailing of an unsettled baby who needs cradled, rocked, cooed and lulled back to sleep for, they hope, a few more hours. For the fussiest babies, it is a ritual that can happen multiple times per night.
A Los Angeles pediatrician fears that's causing an exhaustion epidemic among new parents and has developed a technological fix that he claims could give them precious more shut-eye. Snoo is an electronic bassinet that gently rocks from side to side and emits white noise to help ease a baby to slumber. The smart sleeper can also hear when a baby cries in the night and automatically adjust to quiet them back to rest without a parent's intervention.
The rocking motion and rhythmic sounds of the crib are meant to mimic the womb, a familiar environment for newborns that causes them to relax and fall asleep, said Dr. Harvey Karp, who co-founded smart-tech company Happiest Baby, with his wife, Nina Montée Karp. He has written several parenting guides, including "The Happiest Baby on the Block."
Snoo is meant to be used during the first six months after a baby is born, before they are able to crawl and potentially escape its low walls. Unlike human-propelled cradles, Snoo plugs into an electric outlet and moves steadily throughout the night and emits the sound of either soft rain or the womb. Three built-in microphones detect when a baby begins to cry, triggering the bassinet to pick up speed and increase its volume in an effort to calm the baby.
It also comes with a "Snoo sack" that swaddles the baby and clips to the bed, preventing the little one from rolling onto its stomach, which Karp said can be dangerous for the baby. Karp states unequivocally that the sleeper does not claim to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, a condition in which an otherwise healthy babies dies in its sleep for often inexplicable reasons.
The sleeper has been vetted by product safety regulators, but has not been reviewed medically, Karp said. It is being displayed for other physicians for the first time this weekend at the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference in San Francisco.
Dr. Maida Lynn Chen is director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center at Seattle Children's Hospital. Snoo first popped up in her Facebook newsfeed earlier this week, and the child sleep specialist felt compelled to investigate the bed further. Chen took issue with the claim that Snoo is "the smartest - and safest - baby bed ever made" as its website proclaims.
"Certainly claims that it's the safest bed are really misleading and potentially irresponsible," she said. "It's not been studied long term to my knowledge. Certainly at this point in time I'm not aware of any scientific studies that have looked at this bed compared to any other bed."
Snoo will also cost $1,160 ($1600 NZD), considerably more than a mass-market bassinet. Chen expressed concern that the price point likely excludes parents who are perhaps most susceptible to exhaustion, such as single parents and those without parental leave benefits. Financing plans are available for those who need payment assistance, Karp said.
The bassinet is available for preorder and will begin shipping Nov. 1.
Many new parents today lack the it-takes-a-village support system of past generations when raising children, Karp said. Exhaustion can contribute to health issues and nuisances that range from postpartum depression to reduced productivity at work. If the crib can help shush a baby a few times per night, that provides more sleep for the parents, he said.
Of course, it wouldn't be parenting without some measure of guilt. Does relinquishing your parental duties to a piece of machinery somehow diminish your bond with the baby?
"This is a helper. This is kind of like having as night nurse or nanny," Karp said. "The baby still needs to be fed, the baby still needs to be changed, the baby still needs to be held." Indeed, Snoo will only try to calm the baby for so long before it stops. "If the baby is still crying, that's your indication that the baby needs something the bed can't give it," he added.
Still, Chen said those night wakings are a "certain right of passage that we all go through when you have an infant" and nature intended them for more than just parental suffering. Learning the baby's sounds and habits, and developing the right instincts to respond, are critical during those first few months, she said.
"There are certain triumphs to parenting, such as figuring out your child's cues and being able to soothe your baby in some shape or form," she said. "Really developing and growing, as a parent, your skill set to try to figure out [why the baby is crying], I think that's part of the parenting process."