Technology to revolutionise maternity care for mums

 

A "virtual maternity ward" which can monitor a pregnant woman and her baby from her own home has been trialled by Melbourne doctors.

The world-first wearable sensor is placed on the expectant mum's stomach to measure the baby's heart rate, contractions, and the mother's blood pressures and glucose levels.

All figures are fed back to doctors in real time.

Monash University researchers said the FeMom device, which will be available next year to women at high risk of slowed foetal growth or premature delivery, adds another tool to detect infants at risk of stillbirth or birth complications.

Up to 30 per cent of pregnancies - or 50 million worldwide - are high-risk, requiring up to three hospital visits a week in the final trimester.

 

Adele Baker with her son Jude, 3, and the wearable sensor to monitor her unborn baby. Picture: Tony Gough
Adele Baker with her son Jude, 3, and the wearable sensor to monitor her unborn baby. Picture: Tony Gough

 

Co-developer Vinayak Smith, of Monash's department of obstetrics and gynaecology, said the device was bringing maternity care "into the 21st century".

"There is a push for more outpatient care," Dr Smith said. "The way medicine is moving, it's a lot more about empowering the mother and handing over care to them for a better pregnancy experience."

Dr Smith and colleague Professor Euan Wallace, the Safer Care Victoria chief, teamed with Singapore start-up Biorithm to trial the prototype on Monash Medical Centre patients.

The palm-size device has a new way of measuring the overall health of a pregnancy.

"The Doppler ultrasound we use now hasn't changed since the 1960s," Dr Smith said.

"But this is a brand new technology, where we can cut through the noise of the mother's heartbeat and other internal noises to measure for the first time the shape of the electrical signal of the foetal heart.

"We are still not good at identifying babies that are growth-restricted, and we know a lot of them end up as stillbirths.

"Any new tool we can have for these babies is fantastic."

From next year, obstetricians will be able to prescribe the device initially to women with gestational diabetes and those whose babies appear to be slowing their growth.

Adele Baker bought her own Doppler to check the heartbeat of her firstborn between appointments.

Her son Jude, now aged 3, was born a month early and weighed 2.4kg.

Now 36 weeks pregnant with her second child, Ms Baker said the monitoring device offered convenience and comfort between check-ups.

"It can hard to get to check-ups with a toddler," she said.

brigid.oconnell@news.com.au