In 100 years, it's possible that civilization will look back on our current age of pregnancy and parenting with awe, the way we look back at our cave-dwelling ancestors. "You mean the fetuses weren't even Bluetooth-enabled?" my great-great grandchildren might wonder.
The fact is that tech is starting to solve some the fundamental challenges of baby-havin' with all the vigor and entrepreneurship that Silicon Valley can muster. The impact of IoT was on high profile at CES 2017, with a whole hall (albeit a small one) dedicated to smart parenting and childcare.
Julia Wang, head of digital content at TheBump.com, knows more about it than most. The Bump Best of Baby Tech Awards highlighted their favorite picks from CES. One of the biggest trends she identified: simple, useful data about the health of mother and child in a way that integrates into their lives.
"Passive tracking is the key here," she says. "It's taking that data and putting it in the hands of the parents. They can choose how much they want to see or act upon."
The other side of the coin, of course, is that some gadgets can prey upon the fears of first-time parents. It's easy to imagine one mother using an infant sleep tracker to check-in on their baby once or twice during the evening, while another might sit up all night stressed and on the alert for SIDS.
The best products give useful data and trigger alerts only when then need to. "It's about giving you piece of mind, not actually heightening your fears and stress," says Wang.
Being CES, there's also the inevitable goofy tech that stinks of vaporware, like devices that claim to understand what your baby is cooing—hunger, pain, attention—and interpret for you. "It sounds pretty Magic Eight Ball-like to me," cautions Wang.
The implications of effective technology go beyond simple peace of mind, however. "It's a global issue. The health of the baby can bring down the cost of healthcare."
For example, two companies on display at CES are tackling the challenge of breastfeeding. "If you can help a woman achieve her breastfeeding goals, you can help the country."
Below are five products that TheBump and Reviewed.com loved at CES 2017.
TempTraq: Infant Temperature Monitor
TempTraq attaches like a bandage under the arm of an infant, wirelessly sending temperature data to a smartphone app. The latest version lasts as long as 48 hours before you throw it away. A welcome relief to parents who don't want to wake up already-sick children just to take their temperature. $19.83 for the 24-hour version on Amazon.
Willow: Smart Breast Pump
A simple, clever design that blows the doors off a dusty category desperate for innovation. Each houses a bag that can hold up to four ounces of milk, as well as a rechargeable battery and some small electronics that can track how much you've pumped and send the information to your phone. $429 for the pair, now on pre-order.
Kaishi: Fetal Heart Rate Monitor
Ultrasounds are frequently the first time parents get to "meet" their baby, a beautiful and memorable moment. Kaishi jumps in between ultrasound visits to let you hear and monitor the baby's heartbeat whenever you like. It's sophisticated enough to filter out the mother's heartbeat, as well as outside noises, but is estimated to cost just $75 when it arrives in the U.S. in fall 2017.
REMI: Sleep Trainer for Kids
Sleep training toddlers is a good health requirement for parents as much as for the kids. The Urban Hello is a friendly looking device that uses facial expressions, sound, and lights as behavioral cues. Parents set it up via an app, then explain to their children that if they wake up in the middle of the night and REMI's eyes are closed, they should try to go back to sleep. Other times of day, music may start playing, which means it's time to brush teeth or read a bedtime story. Available for pre-order on Indiegogo.
Bloomlife: Smart Contraction Tracker
Bloomlife is a slim, lightweight sensor that moms-to-be can attach to their belly to get automatic feedback and timing of contractions. It's similar to what you'd find at a hospital, but designed to be worn at home, keeping track of your contractions as your due date approaches. It's actually a rental, not a purchase. Available at $149 for the first month.