At the moment, babies in the womb have their heart rate checked occasionally to see if everything is ok – usually at each antenatal appointment from 18 weeks onwards. However, this only gives us a brief snapshot of the baby’s life. These short checks also haven’t had any noticeable effect on stopping stillbirths.
There has been increasing coverage of apps and home dopplers that can be used by mothers-to-be to listen to their baby’s heartbeat. These can often lead to false assurance or unnecessary stress. Medical professionals are trained to be able to find the baby’s heartbeat, but most mothers aren’t, and may mistake other noises for their baby’s pulse. The FeHeMo vest is designed to record the baby’s heartbeat, which can then be listened to by a doctor or midwife.
A better approach would be to monitor a baby’s heart over a longer period of time. Working with Manchester Integrating Medicine and Innovative Technology (MIMIT), we have created a special device that can do this. This is the Fetal Heart and Movement, or FeHeMo vest. This uses sensors held in a fabric vest both to listen to the baby’s heart, and keep track of its movements in the womb.
We now have a final working version of the vest, and hope to start testing it early in 2017. So far, 20 women with healthy pregnancies have worn heart rate monitors at home. We are happy to report that wearing the monitors for long periods of time did nothing to increase the mothers’ stress levels. Once the vest is fully developed, it will be used in specialist maternity care for mums-to-be at high risk of pregnancy complications
This work would not have been possible without the collaboration of organisations supporting medical development. We have worked closely with MIMIT, Trustech, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the University of Manchester Intellectual Property Fund to make this device possible.
Tommy’s is also currently running our #movementsmatter campaign to raise awareness of the importance of your baby’s movements.
Professor Alexander Heazell, Dr Ed Johnstone, Dr Anura Fernando, Dr Jayawan WijekoonHide details
This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's, Manchester: Integrating Medicine and Innovative Technology (MIMIT), and the University of ManchesterHide details