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  1. The Staggers
10 January 2023

Baby Tech preys on parents’ guilt

But what if my child comes to harm because I didn’t buy the special swaddle blanket, buggy with an automatic parking brake or baby heart monitor?

By Emma Haslett

As a person who lives at the top of a very steep hill and who will, in the next four months or so, be rejoining the pram-pusher brigade, I’m not going to pretend that the idea of a self-driving buggy isn’t extremely intriguing. Sadly though, at a cost of £2,700, the “hands-free” Ella smart-stroller, premiered at this weekend’s CES technology show in Las Vegas, will have to be consigned to my fantasy parenting equipment list – along with the Snoo, the £1,200 bassinet that calls itself a “virtual babysitter” and can soothe your baby to sleep by gently rocking it and playing white noise.

Hang on, though – the Ella also includes safety features other buggies don’t: it has an automatic parking brake, which would come in handy if, for instance, my three-year-old suddenly decided to run into the road while we’re halfway down the hill. What if, in my post-natal fug, I forgot to press the brake on our battered old iCandy (bought second-hand off eBay and soon to be carrying its fourth child) and it sailed off down the hill? By not buying the Ella, am I risking the safety and wellbeing of my precious newborn? Is £2,700 too high a price for peace of mind?  

The Snoo, meanwhile, has been on the market for a number of years (“Meghan swears by it,” a friend, who had just paid £600 for a second-hand one on eBay, said). It bills itself as “extra safe” because of the special swaddle blankets it uses (£34.95 each), which pin the baby into the bassinet, preventing them from rolling and therefore reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, aka Sids, aka every parent’s worst nightmare. Looked at that way, £1,200 to practically guarantee my baby doesn’t suddenly die feels like a bargain.

This year’s CES – an event that has historically focused on curvy smartphone screens and ever-sharper TVs – was full of bright new innovations reminding parents that the worst could happen, and that if it does, it will be because they didn’t pay to prevent it. The Halo SleepSure is a $250 (£200) wearable for babies that monitors heart rate, skin temperature, movement and whether they have rolled over (babies that flip on to their tummies and can’t flip back are at higher risk of Sids). The Babyark smart car seat (RRP $1,190, or almost £1,000) comes with an app to alert you if you’ve accidentally left your baby in the car (admittedly probably genuinely helpful to some), “innovative energy absorption technology pioneered by the military” and a ForeverSafe™ warranty that will replace the seat “(once per purchase)” if one of its gadgets detects its safety has been compromised.

“In our day, people didn’t worry about all this stuff,” frowned my mother last week as I umm-ed and ahh-ed about whether a second cup of coffee might be alright during the second trimester, so long as it’s weak. But in a world of data that can identify the precise consequences of not parenting well enough, we are worrying more than ever – and technology that offers the allure of ridding us of these worries is, not surprisingly, becoming increasingly sought after. But, as inflation pushes up the prices of baby essentials like formula and baby grows, there’s something unpleasant about four-figure price tags for such technology: it feels predatory.

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That said, in four months’ time, I may change my mind. Sod the safety features: as I heave the buggy up the hill with a grumpy toddler in tow, there’s a good chance I’ll think £2,700 for a self-propelling buggy is a perfectly reasonable price tag.  

[See also: When childcare is overpriced, everyone pays]

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