Why do we need this research?
Currently, 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, these tests only give us a brief snapshot of the baby’s health. What’s more, since they were introduced into routine practice, these tests haven’t had any noticeable impact on stillbirth rates. To reduce the number of stillbirths, we need to develop better ways of monitoring a baby’s heartbeat and movements over time.
The FeHeMo vest
Tommy’s researchers have developed a special device to monitor the health of babies over long periods of time, called the Fetal Heart and Movement (FeHeMo) vest. This fabric vest is designed to be worn by pregnant women and has sensors that listen to both the baby’s and the mother’s heartbeat, as well as monitoring the baby’s movements. Unlike other sensors, the ones in the FeHeMo vest do not need to be stuck to the skin in order to work.
What’s happening in this project?
The team have been making improvements to the FeHeMo vest. They have managed to increase the amount of information that can be obtained from monitoring the baby’s heartbeat and movements, as well as reducing background noise and improving comfort.
The next step is to ask pregnant women to wear the vest as part of a clinical trial. In the trial, the researchers will see if the FeHeMo vest can accurately record the mother’s heartbeat, as well as the baby’s heartbeat and movements. They will also be testing to see how well the vest performs compared to existing methods that monitor heartbeats and movements.
What difference will this project make?
The development of this wearable device should make it possible to monitor a baby’s wellbeing over a long period of time, possibly picking up early signs that the baby is struggling in the womb. Ultimately, improving the way that we monitor the health of babies during pregnancy should enable doctors to intervene early to prevent stillbirth.
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Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss.