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On our Radar: The Exmobaby

Marketing Fear to New Parents – and selling your product too!

I came across a product yesterday that I thought must be a joke.  However, it is indeed real.  The Exmobaby “knows how your baby feels”.  It is a garment which has biofeedback sensors in it – and an app for your phone or computer to access the results.

The Exmobaby system is comprised of the biosensor garment itself, which is worn by a baby, a single AAA-battery powered Zigbee transmitter pod that snaps securely onto the garment, a USB Zigbee receiver dongle that plugs into a nearby Windows PC, software for the PC itself, a user website where remote alerts by SMS, AIM and email can be setup.

Credit where credit is due – it’s an amazing technology.  They win points for creativity and innovation.

 Exmobaby parents will be able to see icons representing their baby’s heartbeat, emotional state and activity level on their cell phones. This is especially important for first-time mothers re-entering the work force, parents concerned about the vigilance of their babysitter, and childcare centers juggling the needs of multiple children. Exmobaby will also be marketed to parents worried about infant sleep apnea, choking and other dangers that relate to SIDS.

Here they introduce fear.  They aren’t telling parents to do their due diligence and vet their babysitters or daycare centers.  They are saying that parents should distrust and fear their child’s babysitter.  Instead of reassuring parents of the SIDS guidelines , they prey on parents’ fears to sell their product. They also make claims regarding the device’s ability to detect and predict the baby’s emotional state.

Detection of emotion from Exmobaby involves software that compares heart rate, delta temperature and movement data (arousal) to heart rate variability and skin temperature (valence). Normally, these data, if tracked over time, enable a system to “guess” from a series of words that could be used to describe an emotional state: anger, fatigue, depression, joy, etc.

Please show me your studies!  “Enabling a system to ‘guess’” the baby’s emotional state is not parenting.  The sytem makes assumptions based on limited data points.  Parents are told to trust the device’s results, which in turn means they shouldn’t trust their own instincts and intrinsic knowledge.

The company’s FAQ for parents is a litany of fear mongering:

  1. Will my baby die?

Exmobaby clothing and apparel plays a key role in dramatically improving the peace of mind of new parents or any parent. The technology is designed to alert parents when baby or child needs help.

Infant mortality is a real concern.  However, telling parents they should focus on the risk factors for infant mortality, instead of focusing on the baby itself is doing parents a disservice.  This product tells parents to rely on the machine for ‘safety’.   Shouldn’t we be paying attention to our children instead of trusting a machine to “know” their state of well being?

I think this picture, from their website, says it all with regards to how much you need to pay attention to your child while using this product.  The issue I have is not with bottle feeding, it is because the mother is not holding or making eye contact with her baby.  This is a  prime example how how the product trains parents to trust the product and not interact with their child.

 2. Will I be able to protect my baby from harm? The world can suddenly feel like a very scary place when you’re entrusted with the task of caring for a newborn. Fortunately, newborn babies aren’t nearly as fragile as they look, and common sense and parental instinct enable most parents to keep their babies safe from harm. Exmobaby products are intended to assist parents’ natural instincts. The foundation for the product benefits is rooted in bio-data and natural human conditions.

While I agree that newborns aren’t as fragile as they look, I can’t agree that this “assists parents’ natural instincts”.  How can it do that when it takes the quantifiable observation away from the parent?  When it can counter a parent’s intuition?  The world is “scary” when you have a newborn?  I’d rather put it in a positive light – The world has opened many new possibilities with the birth of a new baby.  Using fear to sell your product is reprehensible.

 3. Is my baby “normal”? One of the positive benefits of Exmobaby clothing and apparel is the ability to track a child’s bio-information over time. Trends that are built from your baby’s information can be tracked and any deviation from established norms can help signal a need for further investigation.

I wonder, does it account for the different growth charts for formula fed babies vs. breastfeed babies?  Would it account for the normal drop in the bell curve for breastfeed babies at 9-12 months of age?  What is their background data set?  What are the “established norms”?  Does it account for natural growth spurts and normal events like teething?  Does it account for standard variations of “normal”? Normal is a wide range.  I am concerned that this product is limiting and will cause undue worry on the part of a parent who’s child is at the end of a bell curve.

 4. Is my baby getting enough to eat? Exmobaby technology, while not specifically designed to provide feedback or monitor food intake, can be used to develop baseline measures to help parents understand the timing and impact of eating on baby’s condition.

I wonder if it takes into account the mode of feeding (breast vs. formula).  Breastfed babies have a very different eating pattern than formula fed babies.  Within those sets, there are sub sets how how often a baby eats and how much.  It asks parents to assume that the artificial schedule set by the machine is the “right” one and will possibly ignore things like cluster feedings because it deviates from the baby’s ‘norm’.

 5. Is my baby crying too much? Rather than having to rely on intuition or “feelings”, parents whose children and infants are wearing Exmobaby apparel can be assured that they will know when baby’s crying signals a need for serious attention.

Wow, talk about undermining parental autonomy!  A parent’s faith in their own abilities can be shattered by statements like this.  They are training parents to follow the machine and not that of the actual baby.  Reminds me a bit of EFM during labor.  We hear stories of both support partners and medical staff who pay more attention to the monitors and little or no attention to the laboring mother.  Do we really want to confer this to our babies?

 6. Is my baby sleeping too much-or too little? Sleeping or awake, babies and toddlers wearing Exmobaby clothing and apparel will be monitored. Parents can be assured that if anything needs attention, they will be alerted.

This question is better answered by a pediatrician, rather than the machine.  Sleep will vary depending on baby’s age, diet, engagement during the day, state of being (sick vs. well), etc.

 7. Will my other children learn to love the baby? Exmobaby products can provide a good way for the entire family to become more familiar with baby’s condition. Because they have grown up with computers and technology, older children may be able to help their parents gain an understanding of how the system works.

So, an older sibling will love the baby because there’s an app for that?  This seems to be a bit of a stretch.  Older siblings can be toddlers or babies themselves.  They aren’t going to “help their parents” with regards to the system.  This also presumes parental ignorance of technology, websites or cell phones.

8. Will life ever be the same for my partner and I? With Exmobaby products, parents may find it easier to relax and have peace of mind about baby’s condition. Without that constant worry, it may be easier for many couples to find more romantic evenings together.

Apparently sex sells baby merchandise too.

 9. Will I be able to provide for this child financially? Exmobaby clothing and apparel can actually reduce the costs associated with new baby and infant medical attention. Once parents understand the information being communicated by the technology, they will have a greater understanding for what needs medical attention. Without Exmobaby, and especially for new parents, there may be a tendency to overuse doctor visits to check on baby’s condition. 

This to me is rather twisted.  The company is asking us to leave the decision as to whether or not to call the pediatrician up to the machine. They go on to make claims about how we’ll have fewer doctor visits, therefor we’ll be able to better provide for our child.  We should not encourage patents to self-diagnose their children.  They should make observations and call their pediatrician.

10. Will I be a good parent? That was the case for Laura Augustine, 31, whose son, Sam, recently turned one. “I was pretty paranoid when we first brought Sam home from the hospital,” she recalled. “I can’t believe how much easier it is now.” Exmobaby clothing and apparel will help all parents be better by providing ongoing monitoring and feedback about baby’s true state of being. The capabilities offered by Exmobaby clothing and apparel products can assure parents that their children are okay and that infants, in particular, are safe and sound. With this greater peace of mind, many parents will find it easier to focus on and meet the challenges life brings.

Ah, so ‘paranoid’ parents should buy this product?  They are selling ‘peace of mind’… two sides of the same coin. I can see specific uses for this product for babies with medical issues that require monitoring.  However, they are not the target market here, first-time parents in general are the target market. Right now, per their website, the product is being marketed in bulk to distributors and resellers, as well as doctors, birth and parenting professionals.  It’s being touted as a SIDS prevention tool, with no evidence to back up that claim.

This is a product that smells of quackery, encourages parents to trust the machine and not themselves, and is based and marketed, explicitly, on fear.  There’s been enough science fiction written about machines taking over the world.  It’s often because the people have given up their own power to the machines willingly.  How much power are you willing to give up to a machine?

Tell me your thoughts?  Would you buy this for your baby?  Would you recommend it to your Lamaze Childbirth Education classes?

Babies, Fetal Monitoring, On Our Radar, Science & Sensibility , , , , ,

  1. February 16th, 2012 at 13:56 | #1

    Astonishing! Your comments are on target. Offering a product like this, especially to vulnerable first-time parents, most of whom have been raised in this ever-changing technology culture, will do nothing but undermine the development of parental-infant bonding in many parents.

    Over the years, my Lamaze classes have dealt more and more with trust in one’s body as well as the processes set forth beginning in pregnancy that culminate in building confidence as parents. This product, used by some parents who understand this, might choose to use this product to double check and confirm decisions. Others (and this may mean “most”) will be as reliant on the technology as they are on their phones during class. Brave New World (read it if you have not done so)seems to be on its way.

  2. avatar
    Angie
    February 16th, 2012 at 18:26 | #2

    This is so shocking and insane. I have so many disgusted thoughts about this “invention” but am rendered speechless.

  3. avatar
    Emily
    February 17th, 2012 at 07:30 | #3

    I have a feeling that, like many other technologies (especially in pregnancy and labor monitoring), this technology won’t bring parents the desired peace of mind but on the contrary will undermine their confidence in their abilities and parental instincts.
    As someone who works in the field of Medical devices, I think there’s so much we can do to help people while using advanced technology, and yet in some cases technology can just be a disturbance. We should take all those talented people working on silly devices and those who funded them and concentrate on more helpful solutions that solve real problems (SIDS, for example.)

  4. avatar
    Erin
    February 17th, 2012 at 08:29 | #4

    I would never buy something like this. All of your other (very good) observations aside, it takes away the beauty of being a mother– holding your child close and listening to what their bodies tell you. We have enough that interferes with this bond already, starting with your very first prenatal tests!

  5. February 17th, 2012 at 19:42 | #5

    Absolutely amazing! Another step towards trusting technology with everything and undermining and devaluing humans and what we naturally know about our babies, what we can learn about our babies and the importance of the relationship and bond we have with them. It sounds like very clever technology but technology should help us not replace us and our role.

  6. February 18th, 2012 at 17:46 | #6

    This makes me think of two things. First, the story of the Ugandan mothers who were astonished that Western mothers don’t know when their babies are going to eliminate, likening it to the mother herself knowing when she needed to use the bathroom. We have already pulled parents so far away from understanding their babies’ needs that such a device becomes almost plausible to those who have been taught to rely on technology over instinct and intuition. The second thought was of James Prescott’s research showing that warlike cultures always make it a practice to separate and alienate mothers and babies in some way (in ours: cesarean delivery, the “warmer”, formula/bottle-feeding, newborn nurseries, circumcision, lack of adequate paid maternity leave), while the (almost entirely extinct now) cultures that are peaceful support uninterrupted attachment and bonding. Poor attachment and bonding results in insecure individuals, many of whom then participate in illegal or violent behaviors. How many criminals in jails had secure attachments and safe family environments as children? So, to make the leap, this device will result in an upswing in criminal activity 15-20 years down the road!

  7. February 19th, 2012 at 12:07 | #7

    Please remember our commenting policy http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/?page_id=1662 when composing your responses. Thanks!

  8. avatar
    Melinda Delisle-Clark
    February 20th, 2012 at 10:37 | #8

    Unfortunately, convenience parenting is very much in fashion right now. Just look at how many kids, as young as toddlers, are just given some sort of screen to occupy them during driving, shopping, etc. instead of the parent(s) interacting with them and teqaching them about the world. It seems that this is just an extension of the convenience parenting model. On the flip side, it may give guilty or separation-anxiety parents a means to feel “more connected” to baby when baby is not with them. It is not a genuine connection, just like online gaming and Facebook are not equivalent to in-person interaction, but I can see some working parents being comforted by this device.

    I do not think that this is an acceptable solution to any parenting situation I can think of, though unfortunately I believe the product will sell well. :(

    In addition to what everyone else has mentioned, I am also concerned about the effects of having baby, who is in the middle of such rapid growth and development, constantly exposed to EMFs, wifi signals, etc. Have they done any long-term studies on the effect of this? There have only recently been studies coming out recommending against small children using cell phones because of radiation. This seems to be a similar, but more pervasive, situation.

    Ultimately, the question is: what can we do to help counter these trends? Becoming aware of the products is the first step, so I thank you for posting this.

  9. avatar
    Christine Morton
    February 20th, 2012 at 14:39 | #9

    There is something strangely ironic with targeting parents with a device to track how ‘baby is feeling’ alongside photos of a bottle feeding baby’s leg intertwined with a dog who is chewing a bone. What message does this photo convey? Your baby will tell you how he feels when the dog accidentally bites him or goes for the bottle? Or rather, the device he’s wearing will send a message to your cell phone, at which point, you activate the dog electro-collar? oh my.

  10. avatar
    Kayla
    February 22nd, 2012 at 00:21 | #10

    I would really worry that a parent using this device would come to trust the machine more than their own parental instincts, and inadvertently harm their baby in the process. I agree that not only are the makers of this device playing off of parental fears, but they are also undermining our own natural parenting abilities.

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