When gadgets play nanny

Updated: Sep 30 2007, 06:36am hrs
HIGH-TECH gadgetry and newborn babies seem an unnatural fit. Babies are soft and droolly. Many of the electronics we surround ourselves with, on the other hand, are sleek and rechargeable. They only drool if youre doing something very, very wrong. But Ive been brought up to believe there are few areas of life that cant be improved with a little digital tinkering. Who says tried-and-true baby-rearing methods arent one of them I set out to try a few products that could help during the sleep-deprived storm of the first few weeks of parenthood. My wife and I and our tiny guinea pig/baby, Lilly found each of them had some utility. How much usefulness they provide will depend on your lifestyle, enthusiasm for tech and how much time and effort youre willing to spend on something that isnt cuddling with baby or sleeping.

Babble Soft LLCs web-based programme Baby Manager (babies can be managed!) is good for parents who want to track feedings, diaper changes and medicine doses down to the millilitre. Subscribers to Baby Manager can input the information on the Web site or via a Windows Mobile smartphone like some Palm Treo models or the Motorola Q.

Babble Soft president Aruni Gunasegaram said she developed Baby Manager in 2005 around the time her daughter was born. She kept a personal digital assistant beside her and was able to quickly look up the last time the baby had eaten. If youre home for any length of time, your memory starts to fail because youre sleep-deprived, Guna-segaram said.

Advice for dads, from dads

Though theres no shortage of books, Web sites and forums for new moms, information written for and by dads is a bit of a rarity.

Still feeling woefully unprepared a few weeks before the birth, it was a relief to find Dadlabs.com and its DVD, Due Dads: The Mans Guide to Labour and Delivery. The company, Dadlabs Inc, created by three former Austin teachers puts out hilarious videos on its site, giving dads the lowdown on parenthood in a familiar environment: Theres a dartboard, beer and plenty of sports metaphors in the Dadlabs Lounge. The video broaches every major part of the delivery process, from getting to the hospital to post-partum depression with information from doctors, psychologists and parents. The Web site contains product reviews, punditry on parenting issues and sensible advice for dudes who want to be active dads.

To nap, perchance to energise

The audio-based sleeping aids offered at pzizz.com arent specifically targetted to parents of newborns, but we got enough warnings about sleep deprivation before the birth that Pzizz seemed worth trying out.

Available for PC and Mac, the software creates custom audio files to help you sleep or nap. You could, for instance, create a 25-minute Energiser nap that will lull you into relaxation with narration and ocean sounds and then sound an alarm at the end to bring you back to reality. The audio files can be exported to an iPod, burned on a CD or played directly on the computer. In my tests, the nighttime software was relaxing but never got me to fall asleep. The Energiser module worked much better for me. A 10-minute nap at midday helped me relax and marshal my strength for next diaper change.

The crib cam

Skeptical was I of AT&Ts Remote Monitor Service, which allows you to set up a video camera and security system in your home that can be accessed on the Web or by phone. That was before I saw my baby, in her crib, via live streaming video from work.

Setup is surprisingly quick, and once everything is plugged in, the camera can be accessed online, its moving lens controllable via the Web. The camera can capture still images when it detects movement, and a Privacy button on the camera itself can shut the video feed down instantly, a feature my wife appreciated. By cell phone, the video is choppier and controlling the camera is much slower, but the video imagery is still clear and easy to access.

But nothing matched the power of being able to see what the baby was doing from work. I gathered co-workers around the monitor to see her wiggle her arms and feet. Sure, she might only be sleeping, but its the next best thing to being home.

NY Times / Omar Gallaga