When one of my closest friends came to visit five days after my daughter was born, she ascended the stairs to our room, glanced at my sleeping baby and squawked, “What the hell is that?!”
She wasn’t reacting to my child, but what my child was sleeping in. Limoo (not her real name) was zipped into what can only be described as a baby straitjacket, which was strapped in a white mesh bassinet that was rhythmically rocking and emitting whooshing white noise. “It looks like something from the future!” my friend exclaimed.
It was a Snoo, a handsome robotic bassinet kitted out with all kinds of bells and whistles that made it far more sophisticated than anything else on the market. It had built-in sensors to detect when Limoo startled awake – which would prompt more aggressive jiggling and louder white noise – and it was synced up with an app that tracked the metrics of her sleep but also allowed me to remotely turn it on, off and manually increase the motion.
Snoo came with the bold promise of helping newborns sleep better and longer and claimed to reduce the need for sleep training in the long run. I was excited to raise a kid, but reluctant to give up my long, indulgent nights of rest. I dreaded trading literary fiction for dry books on sleep training. Was this the ticket to lazy parenting I didn’t know I wanted?
The catch: It cost $1,500 – six times as much as the bassinet I was planning to buy (and even that felt like a splurge). I cringed when I saw it on a list of baby must-haves compiled by Kim Kardashian, the queen of conspicuous consumption. I wanted to be the hand-me-down, find-it-for-free mom, not the buy-the-baby-a-bed-that-costs-more-than-your-own mom. I got lucky: The company – without requiring a review or endorsement of any kind – offered to let me test drive Snoo. Maybe my slothful existence could carry on into motherhood after all.
Snoo was developed by Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician/baby whisperer who rose to prominence in the early aughts after he published The Happiest Baby on the Block. Many of his principles for soothing a newborn, such as swaddling and shushing, were built into Snoo.
After setting it up in our room two weeks before Limoo arrived, we strapped in the Snoo Sleep Sack (the straitjacket-looking thing) and turned it on. It began to gently vibrate and play a low-level stream of white noise. I held down the button on it to kick it up to one soothing level after another – the top one being a little too aggressive for our tastes.
A few days later, I spoke to Karp on the phone and raised concerns about the vibrations. He assured me that it had been thoroughly tested for safety and babies were actually jostled more when safely strapped into car seats. And hey, if we were really uncomfortable, there was a way to disable the most vigorous rocking through the app. Near the end of our chat, Karp wished me luck and suggested I think of Snoo as “a member of the family more than it is a product.”
I rolled my eyes at the time but his words were prescient.
From the week we brought her home from the hospital, we would strap Limoo into the bassinet when she was asleep or pretty close to it (the instructions were to put her in when she was drowsy) – but getting her there still took a lot of our time and energy. She’d wake up, eat, have her diaper changed, then fight going back to sleep, sometimes for hours. In the first two weeks of her life, my husband probably logged the distance of a half marathon pacing the length of our ground floor while holding her; I watched a whole season of Orange is the New Black while bouncing with her on an exercise ball.
One evening, when she was particularly fussy and our normal methods to calm her had failed, we zipped our daughter’s squirmy and very awake body into Snoo and turned it on, half expecting her to continue her protestations. As it rhythmically jiggled her, we saw her eyelids grow heavy. In minutes, she was asleep. Our egos were bruised, but we were relieved. How was it possible that this inanimate object was better at soothing our daughter than we were? Snoo quickly established itself as Limoo’s third parent.
“Try Snoo-ing her” soon became part of our lingo at home and the apparatus’s app earned a spot on the first page of icons on my phone. It produced graphics that showed when Limoo was asleep, when she woke up and when the jiggling kicked into “soothing” mode. After a month, Limoo slept for five-hour stretches. At two months, it was eight or nine hours. One morning, when she was out for more than 10 hours, I worriedly googled “What is too much sleep for a two-month old?”
Snoo had made us blissed-out parents in some ways, but also fed into a strange desire to quantify how well our daughter was doing. When friends sent texts asking about her, I was tempted to reply with a screenshot from the app; to me, it illustrated our lives better than any photo could.
Some mornings, when I heard Limoo fussing awake, instead of picking her up and rocking her like most other parents would, I’d grab my phone, open the Snoo app and crank up the “soothing” by a level or two so all three of us could enjoy some more shut-eye. One of the best compliments a childless friend gave me was, “You guys don’t look busted like most parents do.” If I was cheating at parenting, I didn’t care. I’d take sleep over moral superiority any day. Still, I knew it would be cruel and obnoxious to share our experience with other new parents. If I ever did divulge how well Limoo was sleeping, I’d always qualify it with, “But I bet that four-month sleep regression is coming for us!” or “Who knows how long this will last!” I dreaded the day Limoo would outgrow Snoo.
When our daughter was three months old, we left her alone at night for the first time with my brother and his wife so we could attend a wedding. I barely looked at my phone all night, but at 11 p.m., I noticed an hour-old notification from the Snoo app indicating that Limoo was crying and that even though it had cycled through every soothing level – including the most vigorous one – it could not console her. I told my husband and we both had the same image in our minds of our little baby strapped into this turbulent machine, her screams growing louder, utterly helpless. In reality, Limoo had been taken out of Snoo and soothed by my sister-in-law before being placed back in it and was now fast asleep. Still, my husband was desperate to leave early to check on her. When we got home, he went upstairs and found her sleeping peacefully in Snoo.
At four months, Limoo went through both a growth spurt and a sleep regression (sadly, Snoo offered no protection against that) and it became obvious she was now too big for her bassinet. I felt emotional about her transitioning from Snoo to a crib in her own room, but she didn’t seem to notice the difference. Her multiple night wakings continued for a few weeks and we bit the bullet, got a book on sleep training and followed its instructions. She took well to them and sleeps soundly through the night now. Was she just wired to be a good sleeper, or did Snoo make her one? It’s hard to know. But she seems to get along just fine these days with two parents instead of three.
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.