The pregnancy patch that could change the way women give birth

Woman breathing in labour

In news that will make every pregnant woman listen up, an Australian engineer has invented a little labour monitoring gadget that could not only change our experience of labour, but also better manage the risks and uncertainties associated with it.

Meet the ‘Oli’

After the traumatic birth of her second son, mechatronics engineer Sarah McDonald decided there had to be a better way to help monitor labour, so she set about inventing the ‘Oli’.

Unlike the thick torso bands we usually wear when in labour that measure our baby’s heart rate and the frequency of contractions, the Oli is a small but smart patch that allows women to follow their own pregnancy and labour in real time.

It also isn’t a one size fits all approach, unlike the current method.

“Instead of just looking at contraction frequencies and fetal heart rate, we want to determine the quality of pregnancy and labour itself,” McDonald said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

“Some women will have faster labours, and some labours will be longer.

“Rather than just going by the clock to determine when to use interventions [for instance induction or caesarean section], we can look at an individual’s measures and say, ‘You’re progressing OK for you along your own timeline’.

“For others it might mean we need to intervene earlier instead of the watch-and-wait approach that can leave women and babies in distress for periods longer than necessary.”

Woman in labour

Is it here yet?

Not yet. The Oli is in the prototype stages but has just been awarded a $1.47 million grant from the NSW government’s Medical Devices Fund to bankroll it’s development.

The Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the funding gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to get game-changing ideas to market that are “significantly improving health outcomes and even saving patients’ lives”.

Why we need the Oli

As well as it’s obvious life-saving and intervention reducing potential, we also need it because those traditional hospital monitors are just so clunky to wear! Ask any woman who has been in the throws of labour how she feels about them and she’ll tell you they are awful.

The Oli on the other hand is a wireless patch, freeing women in labour up to shower, have a bath and walk around, which the current technology doesn’t allow.

Mum of three Pip Lincolne says she was excited to read about the Oli.

“This more individual approach to monitoring labour, coupled with the fact that the patch is wireless – so you’re not trussed up like a chicken when you’re already under duress – seems like a huge leap forward. It’s the future really, the opposite of a one-size-fits-all default approach,” she said.

“Women have to deal with those stupid belts around their belly and a routine approach to monitoring. This is much more individualised, and looks to be very accurate,” she added.

Labour pain - woman with nurse

There are even more exciting developments

While the Oli has been designed as a labour monitoring gadget for all women, McDonald is also working on a second model designed for women with high-risk pregnancies in their final trimester.

This third trimester device would send real-time data to a woman’s pregnancy care team to help them make treatment decisions and, if needed, appropriately time interventions.

McDonald said it will help, “Lots of mothers in different situations and clinicians to improve outcomes for mothers and babies.”

Pregnant woman in third trimester

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