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Analogue Baby Monitors and Radiation

Analogue Baby monitors and radiation

About

Baby monitors use radio frequencies to relay sounds the baby makes to a receiving station so that parents can monitor the baby when out of the room. These devices are either audio or audiovisual devices that send information so that parents will know when the baby is awake or when the baby is crying and needs attending.

These are typically used by anxious parents who want to know when their baby has some need (to be held, to be fed, or to be changed) when they do not want to sit by the crib but want to be close enough nearby to respond to the baby’s needs. However, it should be noted that baby monitors are radio transmitter devices and they are often used in close proximity to the baby, which can pose a health hazard depending on the model and manner in which they are used.

Analogue versus digital

Analogue baby monitors transmit radio signals in a range from 49 MHz to 900 MHz, depending on the model. There are also higher resolution digital baby monitor models and they typically transmit in the 1.8 GHz to 2.4 GHz bands.

The digital models tend to be more popular with new parents because they usually have a lot of convenient features which are attractive sales options. Despite being marketed for children, baby monitors are essentially a type of WiFi router and can pose a danger to small children and infants (note the 2.4 GHz models are the same identical transmission frequency of most home WiFi routers).

What is EMF?

All emitted energies in the world involve photons, which are elementary particles that travel at the speed of light and are massless. Yes, they exist but have no mass (try to wrap your head around that one).

These same particles that make up the light coming out of your chandelier, headlamps on your car, or a flashlight are the same particles you use to heat up your food in the microwave, the same particles that the radio in your car receives, and what warm the room when you start a fire in the fireplace or turn on the heater. These are also the same particles that are used in the medical field to take an x-ray of your broken toe.

There are obvious differences between these devices, some of which are harmless, and the others you are quite aware can cause harm if not used in a safe manner. So how can the same particle be benign in one use and dangerous in another?

It all comes down to the wavelength of the electromagnetic energy, its frequency, and the intensity of the emitted energy. All of these energies are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which range from long waves down in the radio band, through the visible light bands, and all the way up to short-wavelength energies as gamma rays.

The ability of photons to bounce harmlessly off a surface (they do not actually bounce, but the technical details are beyond this present discussion) or to penetrate imparting significant energy to the target all have to do with those three factors we listed above. Newer baby monitors use off-the-shelf technology derived from WiFi routers and transmit at the same wireless bands as those devices.

In choosing a baby monitor that transmits radiofrequency energy, if you must have one, it is a matter of selecting a transmission band that is of as low a frequency as you can get. The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength and generally the higher the emitted energy, the frequency is the inverse of wavelength mathematically.

Regarding your newborn child, determining what is a safe EMF level or not is a matter of calculated risk. To be blunt, you really should not put a radio energy emitting device of any kind next to your baby.

Dangers to your Child: EMF Radiation

Analogue Baby Monitors and Radiation

A baby monitor isolated against a white background

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2011 conducted a study of consumer radiofrequency devices and concluded that all radio emission energies could contribute to increased risk of cancer. IARC officially classified radiofrequency radiation from any source as a class B carcinogen.

A class B carcinogen is defined as any agent (chemical or energy source) that is possibly carcinogenic to humans. It should be noted that the typical test subject upon which carcinogenicity and toxicity models are based is a 160-pound adult male.

This selection of target subjects has long been criticized for several reasons, but this standard was established decades ago and regulatory agencies have been hesitant to deviate from it. To actually focus on setting safety standards that apply to everyone, we should be basing our models on children, who are the most vulnerable to chemical and energy exposures.

It is also rather confusing as to why males were selected, since for toxic chemicals, the majority of which are very fat-soluble, women would be far more susceptible to toxic exposure than men since on average they have a higher body fat content.

Regarding radiofrequency energies, it has long been acknowledged that children are more susceptible to central nervous system effects (approximately 10x more vulnerable) than any adult since their cranial bones are much thinner than adult skulls. For a well-written review of the dangers of radiofrequency radiation, see this excellent article by Dr. Martin Pall, a Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences at Washington State University: Pall M. (2018) Wi-Fi is an important threat to human health. Environmental Research 164:405-416.

Many studies on the negative health effects of radiofrequency radiation have been conducted over the long career of Dr. Magda Havas, a Professor Emeritus of the Trent School of the Environment at Trent University, Canada. Her recent article in the journal Environmental Pollution (Havas M [2017] When theory and observation collide: Can non-ionizing radiation cause cancer? Environ Pollut 221:501-505) sums up the latest research and arrives at the conclusion that human beings in the modern electronic world are immersed in unprecedented amounts of radiofrequency energies and are at risk of increased cancers rates from long-term exposure.

Note that baby monitors are also included in her study review since they are basically nothing more than WiFi monitors with a camera and microphone.

Are Some Baby Monitors Safe?

Analogue Baby Monitors and Radiation

The safest models of baby monitors are those with the lowest frequency transmission bands, specifically those models that operate at the 49 MHz bands. These are just below commercial FM radio transmission bands, which transmit at frequencies between 88 MHz and 108 MHz (just look at your radio).

Some analogue baby monitors are marketed as very safe for infants but transmit at 900 MHz. Considering that microwave bands range from about 100 MHz to 1.0 GHz, this is really not a safe option for kids.

No sane parent would put their newborn next to or on a running microwave oven, so not all analogue baby monitors are appropriate for use as baby monitors. The difference between a microwave oven and a baby monitor, however, is that the microwave is only used periodically for cooking food.

Baby monitors transmit radio frequencies constantly (unless you purchase a voice and motion-activated model) and they are usually placed in close proximity to the baby. Tests with some common models of baby monitors with EMF meters have yielded results of as much as 100,000 microwatts of energy emitted from the monitor, whereas your typical WiFi router will emit only half of that amount.

This is a serious health issue that has been overlooked by most regulatory agencies to date, but there are some countries that are beginning to issue regulatory restrictions on baby monitor devices. For example, the German and Canadian governments have instituted safety standards for baby monitors that must meet radiofrequency emission guidelines.

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) does test for radiofrequency energies but does not test for microwave band radiation. 

In Germany, their Blue Angel ecolabel applies safety standards based on scientific research to consumer electronics, but only as a certification and recommendation label. The program supports a standard but does not restrict sale of devices that fail to achieve the certification, so caveat emptor.

One of their recommended analogue monitors, which is Blue Angel certified, is the Hartig-Helling MBF 3333. This is an analogue device that transmits at 40 MHz and also has a voice activation mode.

US regulatory agencies have not yet weighed in on setting standards for baby monitor safety, so you will have to do your own research and find a model that meets the recommendations we make here. However, we will list a few just to make your job a bit easier.

All of the models listed below are audio-only since there are higher frequency transmission requirements for the video feed. For most parents, audio is enough and they will likely prefer the peace of mind they get from using a safer device.

The Safety 1st Crystal Clear Audio Monitor is a good choice for a low-frequency analogue baby monitor. It transmits at 49 MHz, has two transmission channels, and has a range of roughly 600 feet, though the types of walls you have between the transmitter and the receiving station may reduce this somewhat.

The First Years also makes a nice analogue monitor that transmits in the 40 MHz bands with their Crisp and Clear Baby Monitor. It is an audio-only model that has about a 700-foot transmission range.

Another good one is the BabyMoov Easy Care Monitor, which transmits at just under 865 MHz but is still outside of the microwave range (by just a little). It is voice-activated, has good transmission clarity, and will transmit 1600 feet in open space (less through walls, but who has a house that big?).

The final one in this shortlist is the BabyMoov Expert Care Low Emission Audio Monitor which is an audio-only baby monitor that transmits at 865 MHz, is voice-activated, and only emits 2.9 mW of energy. It has a transmission distance over open ground of 3300 feet.

How to Make Baby Monitors Safer

Shielding

If you happen to find that you have purchased a digital baby monitor or a high-frequency analogue baby monitor, or for some reason, the model you just have falls under either of these categories, there are some steps you can take to reduce the exposure of your baby to electromagnetic radiation. Simple shielding solutions can be purchased at your local Big Box store or Office Depot.

Steel mesh containers, popularly sold as wastebaskets or small organizing caddies, are effective as simple Faraday cages. These containers are useful for radio emission devices in all consumer product transmission ranges, even beyond one GHz.

The way in which the materials of which these containers are made act very effectively as shielding devices. Radiofrequency do not travel well through metallic materials constructed of parallel strands of material.

Tests of wire mesh baskets storing baby monitors and other radio devices using EMF meters for measurements have confirmed that approximately 90-95% of radiofrequency radiation is shielded. Simply place the baby monitor transmitter in the wire mesh container for good shielding.

Wire mesh office caddies and wastebaskets are not complete Faraday cages, however, and usually lack a lid. That being said, make certain to place the container at a height above the crib or bed so that no line-of-sight is possible between the transmitter and your child (whereupon the radiation leaking out of your make-shift Faraday cage is directed upward and your newborn is not within the radiation leakage cone).

In addition, you should place the container with the transmitter at some distance from your child (4-6 feet; more distance is better).

Voice and motion activated devices

Some newer baby monitors have an eco-mode or some similar function that operates the baby monitor in a voice and/or voice-motion activation mode. This ensures that the monitor does not transmit energy constantly, but only when movement or sound is detected.

Bear in mind, if your child is active in the crib, the monitor will stay in active transmission mode and radiate electromagnetic energies. Combining a voice-motion activated baby monitor with the shielding solutions mentioned above is a very safe and effective combination to protect your child from electromagnetic radiation.

Avoid WiFi, Use Plug-ins

One way to easily ensure that your child is not exposed to radiofrequency radiation from a baby monitor (assuming you feel compelled to use one at all) is to go old school and use wired or plug-in intercoms as monitors. There are several models on the market that do have WiFi or Bluetooth capability, but these functions are disabled once a wired connection is detected.

If these functions are not disabled on a model you purchase, radio transmission options can be shut off through the menu of the device. Since baby monitors use versions of off-the-shelf internet router technologies, most wired models have 10-base-T ports for standard internet cabling or have an output cable with a standard internet jack at the end.

Several popular models are made by D-Link and Arlo-Q. Some D-Link models are not built with internet ports in the device, so if you opt to go this route, make sure to review the product specifications before purchasing.

Wired camera models are easy to set up if your home is pre-wired for the internet, however most homes still are not. There are options you can employ to make use of these devices, even in older homes.

At this point, you have two options for connecting the camera to your internet router: the easy, sloppy way or the more-involved, nice-looking way. The easy way is a little unsightly but is easy to do since it only requires that you connect the internet port or internet jack at the end of the output cable to a lengthy 10-base-T cable and run out to your router.

This would result in an internet cable running down your hallway, but let’s face it, your infant will not be an infant forever, so it may be a temporary and acceptable solution for you. The other option is to run internet cabling through the wall to the child’s bedroom and install an internet jack in the wall.

This may be something you are not too keen on taking on yourself, so feel free to hire a professional to assist you in the installation. After you choose a method of getting the internet cable signal to your router, simply plug the cable into one of the ports at the rear of the router.

This is much the same procedure as you do if you were connecting a 10-base-T wired connection to a home network printer. In the camera menu (which can be accessed by connecting your laptop directly to the camera with the internet cable), you can set up restricted sharing of the video and audio feed by password and user login.

At the router, you can also go through the router menu and define the device as a network camera. You can then access the audio and video of the camera through a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.