If you’re a parent, you have probably already heard about the Snoo: a $1,500 bassinet that promises to help your baby—and therefore you—sleep. Snoo creator Harvey Karp famously believes that helping tired parents get more sleep will lead them to make fewer avoidable mistakes as parents. While the Snoo has been calming babies since 2016, over the past year it started helping medical professionals as well.
The Snoo—which rocks and plays white noise to soothe babies into catching one or two hours more of sleep a night—was originally designed by Yves Béhar’s Fuseproject—has a cultlike following. Even parents who cannot afford to buy the Snoo will rent it just to help them through a baby’s first few months of life. This year, the Food and Drug Administration awarded the Snoo breakthrough status, fast-tracking it for approval as a medical device to help protect against sudden infant death syndrome and sudden unexplained infant death syndrome. If it wins approval, it could qualify for insurance coverage, making it more accessible.
As part of that fast-tracking, Karp’s company, Happiest Baby, began donating products to roughly 22 hospitals around the country to help care for babies, freeing up nurses for other tasks; the program is the winner of the health category of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards. Since the pandemic started, the company has distributed 220 products to more than 100 hospitals around the country. Richmond Children’s Hospital, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and George Washington University Hospital are among those using the device. “Pre-pandemic, we were doing it just on a research basis,” Karp says of the program.
He decided to expand the program to help hospital staff struggling under the demands of the pandemic. Nursery nurses typically can rely on volunteer support from so-called cuddlers, people who spend time with infants when parents are unable to. But during the pandemic, those programs were paused to prevent possible COVID-19 infections. On top of that, nurses were being pulled from nurseries and infant intensive care units to care for COVID-19 patients. Karp thought the Snoo could give healthcare workers a little reprieve.
The extra time asleep means less contact between healthcare workers and infants, which during the pandemic means less personal protective gear used and fewer opportunities for disease to spread. It also leaves more time for nurses and doctors to care more effectively for more patients.
“It’s not a bed—it’s a caregiver, it’s a robotic helper, and in the hospital it’s a robotic assistant nurse that’s there rocking and calming the baby while the nurse is running from bed to bed, feeding babies, taking temperatures and vital signs, changing diapers, and doing the other nursing that they have to do,” says Karp.