There are a number of human conditions that appear to be resistant to technological disruption, but that doesn’t stop entrepreneurs and engineers from trying. The latest attempt to gadget our way out of what has long been considered an inevitable experience is the new Snoo Smart Sleeper, a robotic baby bed designed to soothe a baby so her exhausted parents can get a little more rest.
Out this week, the Snoo was co-designed by Harvey Karp, a pediatrician and author of the bestselling book The Happiest Baby on the Block, along with a team of engineers from MIT Media Lab and the minimalist designer Yves Béhar. The bed has three microphones that can differentiate between an infant’s vocalizations and a noisy environs. When a fussy baby is detected, the crib plays white noise that supposedly mimics the sound of the womb and rocks back and forth to help soothe the baby back to sleep. The fussier a baby is, the louder and rockier it gets. My experience of soothing my son, which mostly involved singing “Hava Nagila” as loud as I could while dancing the hora up and down the hallways of my apartment, is testament to the fact that some babies really do need it loud and rocky in order to fall back asleep. (This was the only song and dance combo I could reliably recall during those late nights and early mornings.)
The Snoo also comes with a swaddle that is easy to get babies into and snaps into place on the bed, which will keep them snug. The company also claims that this feature will prevent babies from rolling over and therefore reduce the likelihood of SIDs. However, most experts say that once babies are able to roll over by themselves, they are also physically mature enough to protect themselves from breathing dangers, so parents shouldn’t worry.
According to Snoo, their bed has been tested on “over 200 babies and has been shown to reduce crying and boost sleep.” If it works as well as they say it does, it’s a game-changer. In an ideal world, all parents would be issued a Snoo Smart Sleeper upon the birth of their first child and moms and dads would be celebrated for using it. Perhaps in some other time, or in some other place—all eyes on you, Scandinavia—this will be case. But unfortunately we live in a period of income inequality and outsize expectations of moms, which means this solution will prove financially prohibitive and culturally taboo for most of us.
The Snoo is priced at $1,160. This makes it affordable for those who probably already hire a night nurse for the first month of their child’s life to escape the ill effects of sleep deprivation, and budget-breaking for the rest of us. Still, even those who don’t flinch at the cost will still pay a large price for using the Snoo. Use of the device, like any other act of self-care by a mother, is tantamount to negligence or abuse according to many people’s sky-high standards for parenting.
Buzzfeed put a video about the Snoo on Facebook, and the top comment on the post, with 621 likes, is “This allows shitty parents to be even more neglectful.” Others chimed in with similar concerns, calling any parent who would use the Snoo lazy, calling the product unnatural, and warning fellow readers of a future in which “robomoms” raise our children. Stories in the Daily Mail and the Wall Street Journal yielded similar comments.
As with so much of the experience surrounding pregnancy, childbirth, and infancy, there is no silver lining to the exhaustion-related suffering experienced by parents in those first few months. It’s simply terrible—and for all parties involved. The baby gets a parent whose patience and stamina have been compromised by waking up every few hours for who-can-even-keep-count-anymore consecutive nights. And the parent (who is probably the mom because paternity leave remains a privilege for very few) gets to experience all the mind-numbing and soul-crushing effects of sleep deprivation during a moment in her life when all anyone ever seems to say to her is “ahhhh!”
Sleep deprivation during early parenthood is brutal, and comes at a time when the physical and emotional burden on a new parent is already overwhelming. Researchers have linked sleep deprivation to postpartum depression and a decline in maternal well-being. So has every new mother I have ever met. I can’t afford a Snoo for my next child, but I will be taking advantage of any and all nighttime infant-soothing shortcuts that do fit in our budget. There are few among us who couldn’t use relief from a “robomom” come 4 a.m.