Top positive review
Detailed Overview and Things That Can Be Improved Upon
September 8, 2015
The Owlet monitors your baby's oxygen level and heart rate while the baby sleeps.
What does that mean?
Heart rate is self-explanatory. The number of beats per minute (bpm). The accepted normal rate for a baby is between [120, 160] bpm, but this is while the baby is awake. Asleep, a baby's heart rate is slower, and the Owlet is designed to be used only on sleeping babies. Our baby's heart rate falls to mid-90's while she's asleep. The Owlet considers anything between [60, 220] bpm to be normal. One interesting side benefit of monitoring the heart rate is that you'll know when your baby is asleep. 92 bpm is a nice deep sleep. 100 bpm is a light sleep. 120 bpm is awake. YMMV. I have some issues about the Owlet's heart rate range, which I'll get to shortly.
Oxygen level represents how oxygenated your baby's blood is. If you recall from your bio classes, hemoglobin in the blood binds with oxygen from the lungs and is distributed to the body via the circulatory system. So hemoglobin has two states: "loaded", meaning the hemoglobin is bound with oxygen, and "unloaded", meaning the hemoglobin is not bound with oxygen. The oximeter is essentially (this is a simplification) the ratio of loaded to unloaded hemoglobin. When the ratio gets too low, the baby is oxygen deprived, and is in immediate danger. The ratio never goes above 100%. Our daughter remains more or less at 100%, although going down to 96% is not uncommon. The Owlet considers "normal" to be between [80,100]. At our NICU, anything below 92% was considered an "event", and anything below 86% was considered a "desaturation", or a "desat", which alerts the staff that the baby needs assistance like a tapping/rubbing of the back. Note that interpreting an oximeter is a bit of an art, not a science. Nurses and doctors learn how to interpret whether a number is truly a desat or a temporary faulty reading of the oximeter. It's not straight-forward, and I think they develop a gut-feel for this by spending countless hours, watching countless babies, as opposed to learning it in school. I say this because GOOD nurses tend to be better at this than doctors (let me just say here that having a good NICU nurse is just as important, if not more important, than a good doctor.)
It's interesting to note that a low oxygen level can occur for more reasons than simply the baby stops breating. Shallow breathing can cause a desat. Crying can cause a desat. Holding one's breath can cause a desat. Even pooping can cause a desat (babies sometimes hold their breath while bearing down to poop). Flexing a muscle near the sensor can cause a (false) desat. I'm assuming the Owlet has some kind of "tolerance" factor built in so you don't lose your mind every time your baby cries, holds its breath, poops, or flexes its muscles. Maybe a running average. Not sure.
The Owlet consists of three main pieces:
* A sock which is the measuring device. It transmits the data via bluetooth to the base station.
* A base station which takes readings from your sock and transmits them via wifi to your phone.
* A phone app which displays the sock's readings.
If something bad happens with your baby, say, the baby stops breathing, this is the sequence of events that will happen:
1. The sock will read a low oxygen level.
2. The base station will emit a "red alert" -- it'll turn red and an alarm will sound.
3. If the phone app is running, your phone will also emit an alarm and your screen will turn red. The alarm is quite scary.
Next, I want to point out that the phone app is not crucial for the Owlet system to work, and in fact, Owlet considers the phone app to be tertiary. There's a little bit of disconnect between what the Owlet considers important and what parents consider important. As parents, we WANT to know what the child's numbers are. The details are important to us, therefore, the phone app is important to us. However, the Owlet system considers only the sock and base station to be canonical. Your baby is in one of two states: normal or emergency. The base station tells you which. The details provided by the phone app are really more for the parents than the child. There's a significant psychological benefit for us in looking at our phone and seeing an oxygen level of "100". I mention this because it means you can use the Owlet without a phone. If you don't use the Owlet app on your phone, then you should know two things:
1. You won't know the "numbers" for heart rate and oxygen level.
2. You MUST be within earshot of the base station. If you can't hear the base station, your child is completely unprotected.
You get a few socks of varying sizes. As your baby grows out of the sock, you must take the monitor out of the sock and place it in a sock one size bigger. There's a sock for preemies.
The Owlet system is excellent in general. It does what it sets out to do. You can read all about the Owlet's virtues in other reviews, but the other reviewers will tell you what you already know. Peace of mind, comforting, useful, allows you to sleep at night, blah blah blah. You already know the Owlet is great, and there's no reason to rehash the same thing over and over. So I'll tell you what you really want to know: the things I don't like about Owlet.
* The preemie sock needs work. Our baby was born 3 months premature, and the sock was too big. Moreover, the preemie sock is more prone to false positives than the normal socks. You will never forget that first false positive. You'll jump a mile high and tear/claw/bite/scratch your way to the nursery faster than Superman, only to find your baby fidgeting because she's poopy. The preemie sock also has a tendency to fall off easily.
* There is no way to turn the sock off: your sock is always transmitting. This means you MUST keep your sock docked to the base station throughout the day because if you don't, you'll find it runs out of juice when you put your baby to sleep.
* The Owlet will not work correctly if your baby moves. When your baby moves or fidgets, the base station will glow yellow (the app will say "Cannot get a reading: your baby is moving too much". If that continues to happen, an alarm will sound, which is VERY ANNOYING. I know we can't be the only parents watching the baby monitor, praying that the baby falls asleep already. There's nothing more aggravating than holding your breath, waiting for baby to fall asleep, and suddenly you hear that accursed alarm wake your baby up fully. ARGH!!!! You can set the app to "nursery mode" which will keep the base station silent during "yellow alerts" -- only your phone will sound the alarm. However, for nursery mode to work, your phone has to be plugged in and the app has to be running in the foreground. This means you can't use your phone at night if you don't want yellow alerts waking up your baby... your phone has to become a dedicated baby monitor. Yuck!
* The above also means that the Owlet will not work while your baby is awake. In fact, the instructions say the Owlet is meant only for sleeping babies. This is fine, except for the fact that our baby makes us jump through hoops every night to fall asleep. Feed the baby, baby gets drowsy, put the baby down, baby tries very hard to stay awake, baby mercifully conks out. That period of time between putting the baby down and baby finally sleeping is when that stupid yellow alert tends to happen. We feed the baby 2 or 3 times a night, so we have to go through this dance 2 or 3 times a night. Not fun.
* When you change / feed your baby in the middle of the night, you can't take the baby very far from the base station, or else that yellow alert will sound because the bluetooth connection only has a range of a couple of meters.
* Unfortunately, swaddles interfere with the Owlet. They make yellow alerts much more likely to happen. *sigh*
* There's no Android app. Phooey on you, Owlet! It's been over a year now. Please just be honest and tell us an Android app isn't even being considered. Honesty is the best policy.
* There's no PC app, which really is perplexing.
* The heart rate bpm range is strange. The max "normal" heart rate is 220. If the Owlet is supposed to be used while the baby sleeps, why so high? If your baby's heart rate goes up to 220 bpm while she sleeps, you are LONG past the point where 911 should be called. I've never seen our baby above 130 while sleeping (and even then, I kinda suspect she was really awake). Likewise, the lower limit, 60 bpm, seems too slow. I would want to be alerted way before 60 bpm happens!
* Optimally, there should be a direct line of sight between the sock and the base station. Owlet should offer a base station mobile that you can clip to your crib or bassinet. Could be nice "swag" for Owlet. Maybe some enterprising mom or dad can incorporate the base station into a mobile and sell it on Etsy or something.
* The velcro straps on the sock lose their effectiveness over time. There should be an easy way to swap velcro. Or some other method of securing the sock. The velcro is too short-term.
There used to be strangeness with the iPhone app where it would "remember" the last state of the base station. So if you turn the base station off during a yellow or red alert, correct whatever was happening, and turn the base station back on, the iPhone app would again issue a yellow or red alarm. *facepalm* However, this was corrected with a software update, thank heavens!
The most fundamental question about ANY baby monitoring system is: Suppose my daughter stops breathing. How much time will elapse before the Owlet red alert will sound? One second? Ten seconds? Thirty seconds? I can barely hold my breath for 20 seconds. I want to know, and if someone from Owlet can respond I'd be most grateful, if the SpO2 alarm sounds, about how many seconds have elapsed since my daughter stopped breathing?
Despite all this, I want everyone to know that I'm very happy with the Owlet, especially after the software upgrade. Some of the issues I pointed out will be true of ANY baby monitoring system, both home and hospital grade. Some of the issues are inherent limitations of a home system. Some issues are things that Owlet really can improve on, and I sincerely hope they do because it's a fantastic idea, and a very good product.
In short, many of the things you read in the 5 star reviews about the Owlet are true, however, the system can be improved upon. It's not perfect. But then again, nothing is perfect, right?