How to Select the Best Movement Monitor

The Babysense 5s out of the box.
Article By:
Curtis Smith
Review Editor

Last Updated:
June 13, 2016

With all of the movement monitors on the market it can be difficult to sift through manufacturer claims and individual user reviews. How do they compare when stacked up in head to head testing? Well we have the answers. After months of testing we can help you sift through the hype and decide what monitor has the features you are looking for. See our Best Movement Monitor Review for all the details.

Movement monitors are considered by many parents to be an essential tool to protect your child from the dangers of sleep related death. As parents, none of us are immune to the fear of SIDS. Regardless of the fact that movement detecting monitors are not approved or endorsed by the FDA or the AAP, most of us are happy to invest in such a product, if there's even the slightest chance that it could potentially save our child. Beyond the potential to alert us to a serious medical situation, these units provide that coveted peace of mind parents so often crave. Sure you can see your child on a video monitor, and hear their cry on a sound monitor, but are they breathing? Every parent has spent a few minutes staring at the video monitor looking for anything to put his or her mind at ease. You could go in the room and check, but we're pretty sure no one wants to break the "never wake a sleeping baby!" rule.

Parents are busier than ever, and in most families, both parents work. If a movement detecting monitor gives you enough peace of mind to use your child's nap time to sit down and work or catch up on the laundry, or, more importantly, get some much-needed rest at night, then we think it is worth every penny.

Types of Movement Monitors

Sensor Pad Monitors

These units use one, or multiple sensor pads placed under the mattress to sense movement. Wires run from the pad to a nursery control unit, and some come with a wireless parent unit.

- Most reliable option.
- Work well even with infants able to roll over or crawl.

- They require a hard, stable surface under the mattress, and may require crib modification if your crib has a slat-type bottom.
- More complicated to set up than diaper attachment units.
- Difficult to move around, not ideal for travel.
- Not compatible with memory foam mattresses.
- Not compatible with most travel cribs, and may not work with hotel cribs.

Diaper Attachment Monitors

These units clip directly to the diaper and sense movement with a soft flexible sensor that contacts baby's abdomen.
Levana Oma  side view.  This movement monitor's curved shape helps to keep the sensor in contact with the infant.
Levana Oma, side view. This movement monitor's curved shape helps to keep the sensor in contact with the infant.

- Small and compact, ideal for travel.
- No special crib or sleeping surface requirements.
- Can be used in travel cribs, hotel cribs and even car seats.

- Not reliable once infant is able to roll over or crawl.
- Can be difficult to put on the diaper after infant is asleep.
- Alarm can be muffled and difficult to hear if infant rolls onto their stomach.

Performance Considerations

When choosing a movement detecting monitor, you should consider both features overall design, and how they affect performance.

Parent Unit

Angelcare Movement & Sound (AC401 Deluxe Plus).  Front views of baby unit (left) and parent unit (right).
Angelcare Movement & Sound (AC401 Deluxe Plus). Front views of baby unit (left) and parent unit (right).
Do you need a monitor with a parent unit? Only one that we tested, the Angelcare AC401, was equipped with a wireless parent unit. We found the parent unit to be a big advantage, primarily because it extended the range at which we could hear the alarm. If you purchase a monitor without a parent unit, the range of the alarm can be minimal. Combining the movement monitor with a sound monitor can mitigate this.

Alarm Volume

The front screen provides a large temperature readout  a volume meter on the left  and icons to indicate battery life  signal  what sensors are active  and movement.
The front screen provides a large temperature readout, a volume meter on the left, and icons to indicate battery life, signal, what sensors are active, and movement.
All of the monitors we tested were loud enough to be heard throughout a small house, but they might not wake you up from a dead sleep. The diaper attachment units we tested from Levana and Snuza were the most prone to muffled alarm sounds, particularly if the infant were to roll over onto their stomach. For this reason we highly recommend that any of the diaper attachment units be paired with a sensitive sound monitor. For more information on sound monitors, see our Best Baby Monitor Review.

Sensor Adjustability

Angelcare Movement & Sound (AC401 Deluxe Plus).  Back view of baby unit (left). Note sensitivity dial in center of baby unit.  Side view of parent unit (right) with belt clip.
Angelcare Movement & Sound (AC401 Deluxe Plus). Back view of baby unit (left). Note sensitivity dial in center of baby unit. Side view of parent unit (right) with belt clip.
Back view of a Babysense 5s sensor pad.  A sensitivity adjuster allows adjustment for optimum sensitivity.
Back view of a Babysense 5s sensor pad. A sensitivity adjuster allows adjustment for optimum sensitivity.
Both the Angelcare AC401 and the Babysense 5s have adjustable sensor pads. We found this to be a critical feature for sensor pad units. The highly sensitive pads can pick up ambient noise and vibration from heating vents, fans, or household appliances. If the pads pick up ambient interference, the monitor will not alarm as designed if the infant stops moving. It is important to test your monitor while using the heater, or other appliances in close proximity to the baby's room. If the alarm does not function, then the sensor can be adjusted to a lower sensitivity to eliminate interference. The diaper attachment monitors we tested were not effected by low level ambient vibration, and do not have an adjustable sensor.

Safety Concerns

None of the monitors we tested are medically approved devices in the United States. No monitor can take the place of proper sleeping precautions recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the NICHD. You can read more about that here.

When using monitors with cords, all cords should be routed to manufacturer specifications, and be out of the child's reach. None of the monitors we tested will work in a stroller or moving vehicle due to ambient background noise and motion. Infants often fall asleep in car seats, and the diaper attachment units will work in a car seat (not while in vehicle) but a car seat is not a safe sleeping environment for an infant, and the infant should be transferred to a crib. It is also important to note that this type of product will NOT work effectively if parents are bed sharing with their child.

Choosing the Right Monitor

Here are a few questions we recommend asking yourself as you work through the process of selecting the right movement detecting monitor for your family.

Do you already own a sound or video monitor?

If you already own a sound or video monitor, you should consider a movement detecting monitor without a parent unit. Movement monitors with included parent units are often more expensive, and you will have the hassle of carrying, and charging two parent units when you leave the room. The sound monitor you already have will extend the range of the alarm. We think the Babysense 5s is a great choice.

If you do not already own a sound or video monitor we recommend you choose a movement monitor with a wireless parent unit. Ideally a monitor that not only alarms for movement, but also functions as a sound monitor. This is a convenient way to go and eliminates having to activate multiple systems at bedtime. In our opinion, the Angelcare AC401 is an excellent option.

Do you plan to travel with your movement monitor or take it to other locations?

If being able to take your monitor everywhere is a primary concern, then diaper attachment units would be your best choice. They are small, easy to pack, and can be used effectively in travel cribs, hotel cribs, and virtually anywhere else your infant may nap. They lack reliability once the infant is able to roll or crawl, but they will get you through the first 6 months which is statistically the period with the highest incidence of sleep related deaths. We like the Levana Oma in this case.

If you do not plan to take your monitor with you while traveling, we recommend a sensor pad unit such as the Angelcare AC401, or the Babysense 5s. Sensor pad units are harder to set up, and may require crib modifications, but when it comes to reliability, they are the best. During our testing we found both of the above-mentioned models to be effective and reliable even with infants that are crawling and rolling.

Curtis Smith
About the Author
Curtis Smith is a father of one who lives and works in South Lake Tahoe, CA. When not focused on Daddy duties, Curtis works as a paramedic, and his wife is a registered nurse. As a team, they offer BabyGearLab readers a unique and informed perspective on baby products, especially with regard to health and safety issues. Curtis has 12 years of experience in the Fire and Emergency Medical Services field. In his spare time, Curtis enjoys climbing, mountain biking, and hiking with the family.

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