REINBECK — As the new infant addition was being built onto Little Rebels Learning Center, director Robin Moore asked for something unusual: 10 electrical outlets, located several feet up the wall, all in a line snaking around what would be the crib room.
“The electricians thought I was crazy,” Moore said. “’Why do you need this many, and up high?’”
But Moore was planning to install 20 separate alert stations that coordinated with 20 Owlet Smart Socks — a device that slips onto an infant’s foot and monitors their heart rate and oxygen levels — each of which needed a separate charging station.
Now, standing in the finished addition, the stations sit on high shelves next to their outlets, quietly monitoring nearby babies as they slept or played on the center’s floor.
It’s a big deal to Moore to have the extra monitoring: She’s heard horror stories from parents about their infants not breathing.
“We need to be avoiding SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in day care,” Moore said. “It’s just that extra set of eyes.”
Little Rebels was the first child care center to receive enough Owlet socks for all of the infants in their care in December 2017, thanks to a partnership between the Knox Blocks Foundation of La Porte City, which donated all 20 monitors, and Child Care Resource and Referral of Northeast Iowa.
To date, 230 infants are being monitored across Northeast Iowa, in places like Learn and Play in Cedar Falls and Evansdale, Kidsville in Independence, the University of Northern Iowa Child Development Center and Hawkeye Community College’s day care centers, as well as several home providers around Black Hawk County, said Mary Janssen, director of Child Care Resource and Referral.
“We feel this is a huge thing for our providers. Babies can’t tell you what’s wrong,” Janssen said.
Owlet Smart Sock 2 — the newest version — retails for $199 at most stores and at owletcare.com, meaning a place like Little Rebels would have paid $4,000 for all 20.
“(Moore) said, ‘I want to put Owlets in my day care — can we get them at a discount if we buy them from you?’ I was so taken aback,” said Elisha Palmer, of La Porte City, who co-founded Knox Blocks after losing her son, Knox, to SIDS. “I just told her, ‘We’re going to donate them to you, because this is awesome for you to be this proactive.’”
The Owlet Smart Sock is a baby sock that fits infants up to 25 pounds, with a sensor on the top of the foot that monitors the baby’s heart rate and oxygen level and sounds an alarm — known as a “red alert” — if either is outside the normal range.
To do that, the sensor uses pulse oximetry, where a small light shines through the skin and estimates blood flow and oxygen levels based on the transmission of that light, the company said.
“As adults, we wear Fitbits and Apple Watches, so why wouldn’t we do that for our babies?” Palmer said.
Mary Janssen, director of Child Care Resource and Referral of Northeast Iowa, said their organization was working with Knox Blocks to put Owlet Smart Socks in day care centers and home child care providers across the state, all donated mostly with funds from Knox Blocks and a few grants from other organizations.
Another 400 infants are still on a waiting list for the devices, and Palmer noted she’s looking to raise money for them at the next foundation benefit, Knox Blocks Gala: A Night for Knox’s Babies, on July 13 at the Diamond Event Center in Cedar Falls.
Owlet’s website cautions the device is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to diagnose or treat any condition, and is for consumer monitoring purposes only. Janssen added that the device wasn’t meant to compensate for other SIDS prevention methods.
“This tool does not replace safe sleep techniques at all, and if you could put that in all-caps, that would be great,” she said. “But this ties in well together.”
The Owlet company is looking to boost its bonafides with a study — made up of at least 300 infants using Owlet socks at day care centers and home providers across Iowa — to look at whether it can predict the onset of viruses like RSV, which puts an estimated 57,000 infants and children in the hospital each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Janssen said her and Palmer’s organizations are working closely with Owlet to get participation in the study. Families who sign off on the six-month study will be compensated for the trial.
But regardless of the study’s findings, Janssen, Palmer and day care providers are believers in the technology already.
“Our goal has always been to get them in as many child cares as we can across the state,” Janssen said. “It’s just an honor to be a part of this project — doing it for Knox, in his memory.”
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