Developing a sensor to monitor baby’s health during labour

Fiona Denison, Marc Desmulliez, Michael Crichton, Gerard Cummings, Claudia Ferreira

If the baby isn’t getting enough oxygen during labour, it can lead to brain damage. Our researchers are developing a brand-new sensor which could provide a reliable and non-invasive way to continuously monitor the health of babies during labour.

Start: March 2018

End: March 2021

Why do we need this research?

Babies need to be carefully monitored during labour to make sure that they are getting enough oxygen, as too little oxygen can lead to brain damage. This monitoring is normally done using cardiotocography, where the baby’s heartbeat is recorded in the mother’s womb. However, this isn’t always a reliable measure, as the baby’s heart rate may slow down without any underlying problems.

We need to develop better ways to continuously monitor the health of the unborn baby during labour. This would mean that if there are any life-threatening problems, the baby can be delivered through c-section as quickly as possible, reducing the risk of long-term complications.

What’s happening in this project?

An alternative way to tell if the baby is getting enough oxygen is measuring the amount of a chemical called lactate in the blood. This is currently done by making a small cut into the baby’s scalp while it is still in the womb. However, this is difficult to do and very invasive, and only gives one ‘snapshot’ of the baby’s lactate levels.

Our researchers are developing a new way to continuously measure lactate levels in the baby. They hope to do this using a sensor which attaches to the skin, and measures the lactate in the baby’s scalp, safely and non-invasively.

The team are modifying existing sensors, called fetal scalp electrodes, to see if they can be repurposed to measure lactate. They will a special enzyme which breaks down lactate to produce a molecule which can generate a tiny electrical current. This enzyme will be ‘printed’ onto the sensor, so that the more lactate present in the baby’s skin, the more electrical current the sensor generates.

What difference will this project make?

This innovative project could result in a new way to monitor the health of a baby during labour. Being able to continuously monitor the health of the baby will help to ensure that any problems can be acted upon as quickly as possible, to make sure that the baby has the best chance of a healthy life.

Get our research updates

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.

More research projects

Read Tommy's news and views

  • A nurse taking a patients blood pressure in a hospital room


    Pregnancy is a unique chance to predict health risks to mums

    A recently published article, co-authored by Professor Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s Research Centre at King’s College London, suggests that certain pregnancy complications can indicate future health issues for women.

  • Rising demand for Tommy's midwives in coronavirus lockdown


    Tommy’s awarded grant to help meet rising demand for support during coronavirus lockdown

    Tommy’s has received a grant from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care to support the costs of its PregnancyHub information and support services throughout the summer, due to rising demand in the wake of coronavirus.

  • Tommy's researchers latest findings


    Tommy’s Research Centres continue vital work on pregnancy complications

    Although recruitment to some clinical trials had to be paused when coronavirus hit the UK, scientists at Tommy’s Research Centres across the UK are still hard at work, supporting women and families in our specialist clinics and sharing their latest studies with academic journals.

  • Blog

    Miscarriage during lockdown

    The day before Mother’s Day, and two days before the UK officially went into coronavirus lockdown, Zara Dawson found out she was having a miscarriage. Her third consecutive miscarriage in less than a year, and fourth consecutive loss, after losing her second son Jesse in 2018 to termination for medical reasons.