Birth technologies

Making labour less laborious

Childbirth may be the most important event in a mother’s life, but it can also be the most traumatic. Technology can help.

The take-away

  • A Dutch research centre simulates rare and acute situations that can occur during childbirth. This training for medical specialists can reduce damage to newborns and mothers by 50%.
  • Preemies are kept warm and monitored in incubators. A “smart belt” from the Netherlands with a wireless monitoring device allows parents to hold their baby outside the incubator.

If there are no complications in pregnancy or the early stages of delivery, a mother is just as likely to give birth successfully at home as she would surrounded by a hospital’s high-tech equipment. But not all pregnancies run smoothly and not all expectant mothers want to give birth like their great-grandmothers. Here are five technologies aimed at helping bring new life into the world:

 

  1. Pregnancy apps and wearables

Various apps and wearable devices are now bringing pregnancy tech into the home. These include Hatch Baby Listen, XinKaishi and Bellabeat Shell, which all offer a foetal heartrate monitor that connects to a smartphone allowing parents to listen to their babies’ heartbeat, record it and share it over social media. Elsewhere, Bloomlife has designed the first pregnancy wearable that automatically tracks, counts and times contractions, while TinyKicks’ eMotion is a foetal activity sensor that counts and analyses baby kicks.

 

  1. Flight simulator for labour

For decades plastic manikins have been used to train and prepare hospital staff for labour and delivery. But for complicated cases most staff have to learn on the job. Now innovative technologies are providing better ways of training hospital personnel.

MEDSIM, an independent training and research centre for medical care, focuses on training rare and acute situations. “We started MEDSIM 10 years ago to build the equivalent of a flight simulator for medical specialists and their team,” explains Guid Oei from the Technical University of Eindhoven. Results have been startling: a large randomised controlled trial revealed that damage to newborns and mothers was reduced by 50%. Having now set up simulation centres in Uganda and China, MEDSIM’s benefits are spreading around the world.

Birth tech article - Making labour less laborious
  1. Virtual relief

In the two years since New Yorker Erin Martucci was given a virtual reality (VR) headset during labour to transport her to a calming beach scene in which a soothing voice provided breathing instructions, VR has increasingly found use in managing pain for various conditions. Martucci is believed to be the first patient in labour to use VR with no other pain relief. But with her experience requiring only a Samsung VR goggle set and AppliedVR software, and a clinical trial in progress at the hospital in which she gave birth, it is likely many more mothers will turn to VR for pain management in labour and delivery.

 

  1. Placenta clamp

Clamping and cutting the umbilical cord is fraught with difficulty, especially if the father is involved. Cutting into the baby’s stomach, the midwife’s hand or – most terrifyingly – a male baby’s penis are all possible. This is why Price Invena, a spinoff of the Technical University of Denmark, developed Clampcut, a device that reduces the number of instruments a midwife has to use from up to six to just one.

“The cutting action takes place in a secured area on the device, meaning it is impossible to cut the baby or the midwife,” explains CEO Frederik Emil Cederfeldt Larsen. “And there are no pointy areas which can sting the baby.” After winning a Danish Design Award and receiving positive feedback from midwives and partners, the company is now pushing the product into 15 different countries.

 

  1. Premature baby monitor

Being hooked up to various monitors in intensive care, premature babies can suffer from pain and stress, while missing out on crucial parent-child bonding. Sibrecht Bouwstra, a design engineer at the Technical University of Eindhoven, thought she had come up with the answer with a wireless “smart belt” that could make it easier for parents to hold their baby outside the incubator.

But companies approached by Bouwstra’s PhD supervisor, Sidarto Bambang Oetomo, were reluctant to take the next steps. Undeterred, Oetomo and son Fabio set up Bambi Medical to bring the product to market. Their Bambi Belt Solution is a soft fabric, skin-friendly, wireless monitoring device wrapped around the baby’s chest. Currently completing clinical trials, the device should be available by late 2019.

Guid Oei (Professor of Electrical Engineering, TU/e), Frederik Emil Cederfeldt Larsen (Price Invena), Sidarto Bambang Oetomo (Bambi Medical), midwiferyjournal.com, clinicaltrials.org