January 1, 2009 High risk pregnancy specialists designed a fetal monitoring device that tracks a baby's position and movement in the womb, as well as baby and mother heart rates. The device is capable of collecting data for up to 24 hours and is portable and wearable--about the size of a mobile phone. It uses five electrodes placed around the mother's stomach that enable it to detect electrical signals. Specially designed software then separates mother and baby heartbeats. The data is stored on a USB that doctors can access at any computer--allowing them to note any signs of danger early on.
Every mother-to-be wants to deliver a healthy baby, and doctors use large ultrasound monitors to check the health of unborn babies. Now, a new cell phone sized device keeps watch on unborn babies around the clock.
Whether you're an experienced mom who can look back at pregnancy and smile or a new mother-to-be, all women want to deliver a healthy baby.
OBGYN doctors often use ultrasound to monitor a baby's heart rate and look for any signs of danger, but it's not a perfect technology. For high-risk pregnancies, specialists want to monitor the baby more closely.
"It doesn't tell you very much about fetal movement, it doesn't tell you anything about maternal well-being and it doesn't monitor the uterus," said Ahmet Baschat, M.D., a high risk pregnancy specialist at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Md.
The new device monitors both mother and baby's heart rates, detects a baby's position and movement and monitors uterus contractions -- all in one hand-held, portable, wearable device.
"It's much more convenient," Dr. Baschat said. "You can carry it under your clothes. You can have the device hanging in a belt just like a mobile phone."
Five electrodes placed on the mother's belly pick up electrical signals just like an EKG for heart monitoring. The monitor stores the information on a USB device that doctors can read off any computer. The monitor can spot danger signs earlier, giving doctors time to intervene and help save lives.
"That's ultimately the hope, that you will detect problems before they lead to irreversible change in the baby," Dr. Baschat said.
The monitor can be worn for an extended amount of time. Its portability makes getting around easier for impatient moms-to-be. In the future, doctors intend to use the monitor for home use to wirelessly transmit health information on mother and baby to doctors' offices.
WHAT IS ULTRASOUND? Sound is a pressure wave that causes the air around it to vibrate. The rate at which these fluctuations occur determines a sound wave's frequency. The human ear has an impressively broad range of sound frequencies that it can hear -- everything from a whisper to the roar of a jet engine -- but ultrasound uses such high frequencies (between 1 and 5 megahertz) that the fluctuations in the pressure wave are too fast for us to detect. Ultrasound uses principles similar to RADAR and SONAR, except that the medium doing the reflecting is the human body. Ultrasound machines transmit high-frequency sound pulses into the body using a probe. The sound waves travel through the body and bounce off any boundaries, such as between fluid and soft tissue, tissue and bone. Some of the sound waves are reflected back to the probe, while others travel further through until they bounce off another boundary. All the reflected waves are recorded by the machine, which then calculates the distance each sound wave traveled based on how long it took the sound wave's echo to return. This data is used to form a two-dimensional image based on the distances and intensities of those echoes.
ABOUT PREEMIE BRAIN DAMAGE: Roughly half of premature births show subtle abnormalities in the brain that may be linked to later developmental problems. Yet it is often difficult to spot this damage early with traditional ultrasound; often problems don't become apparent until around 10 months of age. The possible causes of brain damage in premature infants are not fully established, but include infection stemming from the wall of the uterus or placenta; the inability of an immature cardiovascular system to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the brain; and an inflammatory response at birth. The Monica AN24provides the kind of data that helps doctors spot danger signs earlier, allowing them to respond quickly when necessary.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.