Monday, July 09, 2012

make your own baby video monitor

Hey all.  Forgive me if this is too "uh...duh" for some of you, but I promised I would share the execution of this idea with someone at work who was having her first grandchild (hi Maree!) and am actually quite pleased at how well this is working.

Like most people, we had a baby monitor.  Actually, we only had one for Mack--when we lived in New York, I think we were actually able to hear Cal in the next room because that's apartment living for you--but it was just an audio monitor, really nothing but a glorified one-way walkie-talkie.  But it worked OK and Mack is still alive, so...monitoring success, I guess.  We still have the audio monitor, I just kind of stopped using it when I got sick of it basically being a broadcast of the kids arguing with each other in the basement of our old house.  Just share the damn toys guys, dag.

With a fresh baby though, everyone gets a little more vigilant (read: paranoid), and though I like to think of myself as laid back, it crossed my mind that a video monitor might be nice for peace of mind, to be able to see the things that don't make any noise that a monitor can pick up (blanket over face, malevolent stuffed animals come to life, what have you).  The only thing is, I can be kind of a skinflint about certain things, and it just seemed to me to be an awful lot of money to spend for something with somewhat limited lifespan and utility.  And then I had an idea.

(Again, forgive me if this is too obvious, but I was proud of thinking of it, especially since it used equipment that I had already.)

What you will need:

- A transmitter (I used an old iPhone that I saved--I was on AT&T originally but reception was crap at my hospital and I was continually paranoid about missing calls, since that's that primary way we communicate between ORs and such.  Anyway, my point being that when the new iPhone came out I upgraded and switched to Verizon--therefore I have a phone-plan-less iPhone kind of lying around that still works on our home WiFi.  But really you can use anything with a wireless connection and a camera.)

- A receiver (you can use your phone, a 2nd or 3rd generation iPad, your desktop or laptop computer, whatever.  I've been using my iPad because it's light and easy to carry from room to room, but again, it can be pretty much anything, it just has to have wireless connectivity and a camera.)

- Two Skype accounts (I just use mine and Joe's--the accounts are free to sign up for, and at bare bones, calls made over WiFi are free and unlimited so far as I can ascertain)

- Optional but helpful, depending on what you're using for your transmitter: a tripod, some creative velcro strapping, etcetera.

OK, so here's what you do.

STEP 1: Get a baby that you want to stare at.

STEP 2: Figure out where you want the monitor to be.  You're somewhat limited by the fact that streaming a video call over Skype used a lot of juice, so I would choose a place near an outlet, but more importantly, find a place where you can fixate your transmitter, be it over a crib rail or on a nightstand or what have you.  I apologize for the noise in these photos, but I was under low-light conditions for what I assume are obvious reasons.

(Here you see I have my old hobbled iPhone on a tripod and then Velcro-ed the tripod to the corner of the crib.  I don't think you absolutely need a tripod, but I had one from a lens kit that I got for iPhone photography that I rarely use and it's pretty handy in general--it also allows you to put the transmitter on a flat surface instead if that's your preference.  Just make modifications as you see fit--for example, if your baby is old enough to pull up and grab things, you probably don't want to have that phone just dangling there on the edge of the crib rail, but in that case, you know, put a table next to the crib out of reach or put the camera on a shelf, whatever.)

STEP 3: Make sure you have Skype downloaded on both transmitter and receiver devices.  There's a free Skype app for iPhone/iPad/iPod on iTunes (iKnow, this is starting to seem like I work for Apple but I swear I don't, it's just what iHave in my house.)  Log in with one account on the transmitter and the other account on the receiver.  (I use Joe's account as the receiver, and my account is the transmitter.)

STEP 4: Use one end to call the other end.  Doesn't matter which one initiates the call, just make sure you're placing a video call because that's the whole point.  Accept the call on the other end.

STEP 5: If you're using something like an iPhone for your transmitter that has two cameras, make sure that you change the preferences such that you're using the "back facing camera" or whatever they call it--that's the higher quality camera anyway, it'll probably give you a better image, and that way you're not shining that screen in the baby's face.  

STEP 6: And there's your call on the other end.  Now continue to silently and creepily spy on your offspring.


  1. Very cool! And thrifty!

  2. Anonymous11:57 AM


  3. Wow, Michelle! This is a brilliant idea! I am not yet a mother but I'm learning a lot from you. I will surely follow some of the tips that you have shared to us. Keep touching people's lives.

  4. Congratulations on the arrival of Nina! She is stunning and so very lucky. Thanks for the how-to! I don't know how you are so industrious, having just popped out a whole new human.

  5. Anonymous1:27 PM

    Totally pinterest worthy if I had a kid. Your blog never fails to astounded!

  6. Anonymous2:11 PM

    the old iphone has to be an iPhone 4 or 4s right? cant be a 3? otherwise this would work for us.

    1. If the iPhone 3 has a camera and is Skype compatible, it should work fine!

  7. Recent numbers show that 63% of US households own a pet - that's 71.1 million homes and families with dogs, cats, iguanas, parakeets, fish, ferrets, potbellied pigs, etc, etc., Taking care of a pet is tougher than taking care of an infant, since our pets can't speak. Hence, making sure your pet is safe and happy when you leave it alone at home should be a priority for all pet owners. One of the simplest ways of watching over a pet remotely is by using some sort of webcam software like GotoCamera that is easily available online these days. Thanks to technology and some very smart people who are working on making things easier for us, you can now use your basic webcam to monitor your pets while you're away from them.

  8. Anonymous2:57 PM

    All you need is a $500 iPad (or computer) plus a $200 iPhone that you're not using!

    Yeah, the people who buy baby monitors... we're SUCH spendthrifts!

    1. Well, like I said, the convenience for us was situational, it's stuff that we have already, and like most people, we use them for other functions as well. Obviously I would not tell someone to go out and buy all that equipment just for this purpose. But I'm sure you understood that.

    2. Anonymous9:16 AM

      Look, it IS a cool idea. Why not pass it off as that rather than as frugality?

    3. Anonymous2:19 PM

      Come on- who doesn't have an iphone/Ipad these days?.... I'd say this is def'ly frugality for a large # of people. Lovin it!

      Question: what hpns when u want to use Ipad? Is there a way to have image in the corner while you work?

  9. Anonymous3:05 PM

    Goodness, this all is making me wonder how my children ever survived being infants. They were born long before this electronic boom. Poor things. We just put them to bed and then either walked in and checked on them or waited till we heard them making noises to alert us they were awake. How could they have possibly survived?

  10. Where is Cooper in your family photo on tumblr???? Is Cooper ok?

  11. Cecily8:35 PM

    Michelle, thanks for the info! I think this would come in handy, not just for baby monitoring! (Like poster said above, keeping an eye on your pets, nanny-cam, etc. ) Sharing is caring hahaha. We actually used a audio and movement monitor, which price-wise was in between an audio and video monitor. Plus the 20% off buy buy baby/BBBeyong saved a couple $$$. Ultimately we liked it more than a video monitor because listening was the only sense required and I knew would be so paranoid about video I would be watching it 24/7. It was a nice compromise, just food for thought!

  12. These days, it's SO easy to accumulate electronic brickabrack, especially for the iPhones, which are practically free to get (not taking into account the monthly data/minute plans) provided you sign up for a two year contract by upgrading/switching carriers/what have you. The resale value can suck too. If it was me, I'd rather keep an old smartphone and maybe one day find a hilariously nerdy but practical use for them.

  13. Anonymous9:07 PM

    Your just like MacGyver!

  14. I love this! Ah. Babies in the 21st century.

  15. wow what a cool idea!

  16. Anonymous12:15 PM

    Yes please tell us about Cooper. It's been a very long time since there was any word or pics of her. She was a very big part of your life at one time making her very popular also with your long time readers. If Cooper is no longer here then at least let us know. :)

    1. Anonymous11:04 AM

    2. Anonymous11:05 AM

  17. HAHA, that IS a great idea. I don't have an extra iPHONE handy, but I can certainly use my phone at night or when the baby is napping. Now for the nanny camera though, we actually got a separate camera.

  18. Your blog is very informative as I learned a lot regarding the baby video monitor features. I feel assured that my child is doing great even when I am elsewhere.

  19. Michelle, I think your use of what you already had at home (old iPhone plus iPad) is a great idea. I didn't see you passing it off as frugality at all; rather just a way to show other people how to use what you've already got (which in this day and age, most people do have computers, camera phones, the Internet, etc). We did something similar when we wanted to spy on our dogs while at work. Instead of Skype, though, we downloaded an app called iCam. We set up two webcams (one web cam was connected to a desktop; the other was a built in webcam on a laptop). Each computer had the free iCam software installed. You link the iCam account to the iPhone app and voila. You can spy on stuff while you're on the go! I know, I know... Dog watching gets boring after a while. But it was a fun experiment. Plus the app records movement!

  20. Anonymous10:27 PM

    Thank you for leading me to the pics of Cooper. I was traveling a lot in March and that must have been how I missed them as I wasn't connected most of the month..I loved the one of her laying in the back yard. So pretty! :):)

  21. CdnPsycRes11:44 PM

    But it doesn't have night vision! How can you spy on your baby in the dark?

    1. Anonymous6:30 PM

      dude, after all, it IS just an iPhone and you didn't pay a cent if you already had one....

  22. Anonymous2:15 PM

    Is Joe able to get paternity leave so he can hang out with you guys right now?

  23. Melissa M6:40 PM

    OK I have to ask. Is that baby on her back or her tummy for sleeping?

  24. Anonymous9:25 AM

    Pretty cool. Please just be careful of the cord so near the crib when the baby starts moving. There was a report released about a year ago about babies strangling themselves from monitor cords. I know everything's a hazard these days...

    1. Anonymous6:31 PM

      "There was a report..." sounds doubtful..

    2. Anonymous10:03 AM

      Yes, doubtful indeed:

  25. Anonymous6:57 AM

    This post makes me smile... my husband has been rigging spy cameras for our dogs for about 5 years now using skype... laptop to laptop, desktop to laptop, laptop to phone--- it is great! We set our skype account so that the one at home auto-answers when someone calls. Then we can call in from anywhere and see what our pooches are up to! We did give a dog-sitter a scare one time when she was staying at our house :) oops.

  26. You might want to try out GotoCamera's free webcam software. GotoCamera is EASY to set up and easy to use. All you need is a webcam (a USB webcam such as those made by Logitech, Creative, etc, or even the webcam integrated into your netbook / notebook) and a Windows PC, and you’re ready to start. Once your camera is set up, you can turn on recording schedules, configure motion detection, share your camera with family, and access it from any browser, including your iPhone, so that you can remotely monitor your camera's recordings. You can watch over your children any time you wish. This is perfect for people who can't afford a nanny to watch over their kids when they're away from home. At less than $4 a month, it makes complete sense to me. Give it a shot, try their 1 week free trial and let me know how it goes :)

  27. Baby monitors work on the same frequencies as other household electronics. Consider what other electronic devices you have in your home. If you have a 2.4 GHz cordless phone, then you want to set your monitor to 900 MHz. If you have 900 MHz Wi-Fi, you want a monitor that works on 2.4 GHz. The least commonly used frequency is 1.9 GHz; so, if you can find a monitor on that frequency, it's a good choice.

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  29. maybe also worth mentioning that, you might want to mute mic the skype call at your end so that your baby does not hear you and get disturbed. or even mute at the other end (speakers). easy and good stuff though..

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  33. Very useful info . thanks for sharing with us. If you have baby or an infant, nothing else matters unless you know they are safe. As a parent, or carer, you have to be on your guard all day, and all night long. When your little one is moved into their own room, it is hard to ‘let go’; especially when they are asleep on their own. They maybe only in the next room, but they seem so far away at the same time. Thankfully, there is help at hand to find make sure they are safe and sound by using a baby monitor. click here

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  35. Barbara3:36 AM

    This is a great idea, never thought of using skype on a smartphone/tablet to monitor the baby!!!!!!

  36. Choosing a baby monitor can be very confusing; do you go with an audio? Or, audio video? Does it have split screen? is it two way? Can you view it from your tablet or phone? What is the range distance? Is 600 feet enough? Can you add on additional cameras? Is the display colour? Is it LCD? Does it come with a stand? Can you zoom with it? Baby Ride Safe has a variety of top notch baby monitors that you can choose from to monitor one or more children. These baby items are cost effective, high technology and are great as baby gifts or to put on your baby registry.

  37. Choosing a baby monitor can be very confusing; do you go with an audio? Or, audio video? Does it have split screen? is it two way? Can you view it from your tablet or phone? What is the range distance? Is 600 feet enough? Can you add on additional cameras? Is the display colour? Is it LCD? Does it come with a stand? Can you zoom with it? Baby Ride Safe has a variety of top notch baby monitors that you can choose from to monitor one or more children. These baby items are cost effective, high technology and are great as baby gifts or to put on your baby registry.

  38. It's really an informative and well described post. I appreciate your topic for blogging. Thanks for sharing such a useful post.

  39. Anonymous10:48 PM

    This is amazing!! I just happen to have an old android and a selfie stick collecting dust....what a perfect way to reuse it. LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea

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  41. that looks awesome! a friend is looking for a new monitor. will have to share this with her.

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  43. My favorite is to setup an IP camera which you can watch from anywhere .

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