Monitoring babies’ movements using the FeHeMo vest

Professor Alexander Heazell, Dr Ed Johnstone, Dr Anura Fernando, Dr Jayawan Wijekoon

Researchers supported by Tommy’s have created a way of keeping track of babies’ heart rates and movements in the womb over long periods of time, using a special vest.

This study has been completed

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 the dangers of home dopplers that can be used by mothers-to-be to listen to their baby’s heartbeat. These devices can often lead to false assurance or unnecessary stress. 

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. The FeHeMo vest is designed to record the baby’s heartbeat, which can then be listened to by a doctor or midwife. 

We have created a final working version of the vest, and have been testing it throughout 2017. So far, 20 women with healthy pregnancies have worn the 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. Plus, the fetal heart trace that we received from the monitors was of good quality. 

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.

Research papers

  • Crawford A, Hayes D, Johnstone ED, Heazell AEP. Women's experiences of continuous fetal monitoring - a mixed-methods systematic review. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2017 Sep 13. doi: 10.1111/aogs.13231.
  • Brown R, Higgins LE, Johnstone ED, Wijekoon JH, Heazell AE. Maternal perception of fetal movements in late pregnancy is affected by type and duration of fetal movement. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2015 Sep 12:1-6.
  • Brown R, Johnstone ED, Heazell AE. Professionals' views of fetal-monitoring support thedevelopment of devices to provide objective longer-term assessment of fetal wellbeing. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2015 Aug 10:1-7.
  • Brown R, Wijekoon JHB, Fernando Anura, Johnstone ED, Heazell AEP. Long-term objective recording of fetal heart rate and fetal movements could  reliably identify fetal compromise, which could subsequently reduce stillbirth rates by facilitating timely management. Med Hypotheses 2014 Sep;83(3):410-7.

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Funding

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 Manchester

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