It’s any expectant parent’s nightmare – suddenly, without warning, the baby stops moving. Tragically, stillbirth affects more than 2100 Australian families each year. Yet it remains largely a mystery to medical science. But Melbourne researchers are working on a device they hope will reduce the number of stillbirths – a number that hasn’t changed much in 20 years.
La Trobe University engineers are building an elastic monitoring belt that mums-to-be will be able to wear during pregnancy. Its four sensors will connect to an app, which will allow mums to track the number of kicks and provide the information to her obstetrician.
Team leader Dr Eddie Custovic says it will be the first portable device of its kind. “Currently parents, in particular mothers, go in obstetricians and midwives and they’re plugged into large machines, which can then track the movement of a foetus,” he tells ABC PM. “At this stage of course there is no wearable technology that allows mothers to do that.”
Stillbirth Foundation Australia chairman and obstetrician Professor Jonathon Morris says stillbirth is a “totally devastating” experience for the parents and their extended family.
He tells the ABC that 60 per cent of mums whose children are stillborn say the baby’s movements changed before it they died. Monitoring movements could make the difference between life and death, he says.
“What this device offers is an opportunity to collect far more accurate information about babies’ movement, not only on a particular day, but over time. And therefore, I think this could be a very useful device for reducing the number of babies that are stillborn,” he says.
Dr Custovic says it will be especially useful for women in regional or rural areas who live far from their hospitals, particularly to help reduce anxiety. The developers hope it will be available in the next year.