With new technology products being invented all the time, developers have a new audience to sell to -- babies. For a few years parents have been handing their smartphones or tablets to their children to distract them with a movie or educational app, but now several companies are coming out with new products specifically targeted at children, even some under 1 year old.
Experts say some of the technology -- ranging from apps that tell you when your baby's diaper needs to be changed to a smart scale that allows you to track your baby's growth -- can be helpful for parents. Others -- including a bouncer you can plug your iPod into or a tablet for babies -- can help kids start learning and engaging at a very young age.
But beware, the technology can't replace real relationships between babies and parents, said Chip Donohue, director of technology and early childhood at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.
"The No. 1 thing we worry about here is relationships, particularly for the youngest infants," Donohue said. "We don't want to see a use of technology that gets in the way of that."
Donohue said it is about finding engaging ways to use technology with your child, such as Skyping with grandparents or sitting with them while they work on an educational app, rather than just putting on a movie or letting them play Angry Birds on your iPad.
Some parents worry about limiting screen time for children, especially at such a young age, but Donohue said there is no magic number.
"It's about what the child is doing with the technology, not how long they are doing it," he said.
Mostly, Donohue said, parents need to find out what works best for them. "Trust your instincts and find what technology is going to make your life easier, but also help your baby grow and learn," he said.
A few of the products on the market right now:
Age: As young as 3
What it does:Includes a photo/video camera, allows kids to read animated e-books, has a microphone and tilt sensor for a variety of games and learning activities. Also includes an art studio and MP3 player for creative activities. Durable material allows young children to have a tablet of their own without worrying about them breaking or destroying yours.
4moms Origami Power Folding Stroller
Age:supports children up to 40 pounds
What it does: The Origami stroller folds in two steps for easy storage and has daytime running lights as well as path lights and reflective tubing for extra safety. The stroller is self-charging and busy parents can charge their cellphones in the stroller while walking. An LCD dashboard shows the battery life, temperature and distance walked. Built in sensors will ensure the stroller will not fold with a child in the seat.
Withings Smart Baby Scale
Age: Newborn to 8
What it does:This smart baby scale will measure your child's weight within 10g of accuracy, even if he or she is restless on the scale, and allows parents to track their baby's growth through an app on their phones (which syncs wirelessly through Bluetooth). The app also allows parents to log their baby's nutrition and see how their growth is impacted. Up to four babies can use the same scale and it will automatically recognize which child is being weighed. The cradle can be removed so the scale is usable for children up to 55 pounds.
Owlet Baby Monitor
Age: Newborn to 1 year
What it does:This smart sock tracks your baby's heart rate, oxygen levels, temperature and sleep habits all visible through an app on parent's phones or tablets. The data can been analyzed and charted to help parents notice trends in their baby or alert them in case of an emergency. An adjustable strap allows parents to use the wearable baby monitor from birth through about the first year of life.
Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Apptivity Case (or Bouncer) for iPad
Age: Newborn to 40 pounds for the seat, older for the case product
What it does:If you aren't ready to buy your infant their own tablet just yet, this is a safe way to let them play with yours without it being destroyed or making unnecessary long-distance calls. A sturdy case protects the iPad from drool, teething and unwanted button pressing, but still allows babies to touch and play with interactive apps on the device. Parents can also choose an Apptivity baby bouncer for newborns that reclines and has a space for the iPad built-in so the youngest babies can be connected.
Cost:Case, $35, seat, $80
4moms MamaRoo Bouncer
Age: Newborn to 25 pounds
What it does: This advanced bouncer moves up and down or side to side with different modes including car ride, kangaroo, tree swing and ocean. The seat reclines for a nap or sits upright for play and comes with built-in nature sounds for soothing, or parents can hook up their own mp3 player to play their own tunes. Parents can even record their own voice singing a lullaby and have it play on repeat in the bouncer.