With ever more connected devices using Bluetooth technology becoming available on the market for parents and babies, a key question on every parent’s mind is “could this Bluetooth device be harmful to my baby?”
Two camps – “for” and “against”
Like most debates, there are two groups at either ends of the spectrum. On one end are those that argue Bluetooth is dangerous and each time you use a Bluetooth device around your baby you are effectively placing a radio mast next to them. On the other are those that argue your baby is constantly exposed to environmental radio emissions many times stronger than Bluetooth so Bluetooth makes no difference at all to your baby’s safety, and for this reason can be considered safe.
Comparing apples with oranges
To begin with, not all radio-transmitting devices are equal in power output and time in transmission. So those that claim a Bluetooth device is like putting a radio mast next to your baby can pretty much be ignored. A medium powered radio mast at 50kW is transmitting at a power multiplier of approximately 50,000,000 (yes, 50 million) times the power of a Bluetooth device transmitting at 1 milli-watts, the average power level of a Bluetooth device.
Comparing Granny Smiths with Red Delicious’
So power is a factor, but just as important is the time in transmission. There are Bluetooth devices that are almost constantly transmitting (speakers, headsets and the like) and those that transmit so infrequently they are referred to as “always off”. That is to say, that even though they appear connected, they only send a small amount of data for a few milliseconds and then go back to sleep for several seconds before repeating the process. This means that for 99.9% of the time they are not transmitting at all so zero radio emissions for 99.9% of the time. As the 0.1% is such a small number it can be ignored hence the “always off” concept.
Bluetooth compared to a smartphone or Wi-Fi
It is useful to compare the emissions from Bluetooth devices to the emissions from other devices you may have around your house, such as smartphones or Wi-Fi. One way to do this is to look at their respective specific absorption rates (or SAR). SAR is used to approximate the rate of absorption by the human body of radio emissions. More can be found on SAR here.
SAR is the test used by the FDA and while the standard is not without its critics, it is extremely useful for comparison purposes since the FDA requires manufacturers to carry out testing of their devices and publish their numbers.
Published data shows that for Bluetooth headsets, SAR is approximately 1% of the average smartphone. And this is for a Bluetooth device that is always on. If you take that same SAR value and divide it by 1,000 for an “always-off” Bluetooth device, this shows that a Bluetooth “always-off” device is approximately 100,000 times less harmful than a smartphone over the same period.
So is Bluetooth safe or not?
No-one can answer this definitely since there have been no observations made on a sufficiently large number of people over a sufficiently long period of time. However Bluetooth has a significantly lower levels of SAR than Wi-Fi or smartphones and if you have any of these devices around your baby it is safe to assume a Bluetooth device will not increase in any meaningful way the radio emissions your baby will be exposed to.
How can I protect my baby even further from radio emissions?
The first thing is to look at the specifications of the device. If it claims to be Bluetooth Smart then it will most likely fall towards the “always-off” end of the spectrum of Bluetooth devices.
Secondly, is the device able to be turned off completely, so that its emissions can be reduced to zero? Some devices need to be constantly on for their utility (smart finder tags, for example) so sometimes it is not possible to turn them off.
Thirdly, has the manufacturer designed the device to shield the baby from any emissions from the device? Simple things like placing the battery, which is a very effective radio shield, between the radio transmitting elements of the device and the baby can reduce significantly any emissions further still.
How does Pacif-i, the Bluetooth Smart pacifier compare for radio emissions safety?
We are proud of the level of design that has gone into Pacif-i for radio emissions purposes. To begin with Pacif-i constitutes an “always-off” device. When it is in its most frequent transmissions mode, when it is taking a baby’s temperature, it sends a very small message once every 2 seconds, and is otherwise not transmitting. Pacif-i has an on/off switch and can be turned completely off and, naturally, it can be used as a normal baby’s pacifier in this mode. Finally, Pacif-i has been designed such that its coin cell battery has been placed between the radio elements and the baby, thereby providing a form of radio shield for the baby.
The debate about the safety of radio transmitting devices around babies will continue for many years, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a properly designed Bluetooth device will in no statistically noticeable way increase the level of radio emissions a modern baby is otherwise exposed to.