There are so many things an expectant mom worries about throughout the course of her pregnancy, but now, her baby's heart rate doesn't have to be one of them.
Dr. Elizabeth Rendon-Morales, a researcher and lecturer in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Sussex, has developed a device that measures a baby's heartbeat without the need to visit a hospital. The device - a sensor that uses Electric Potential Sensing (EPS) technology, allows for in-utero fetal electrocardiogram monitoring simply by placing it on top of the skin of the pregnant mother's abdomen.
This isn't Rendon-Morales' first foray into the world of electronic fetal heart monitoring. In 2015, she used highly sensitive sensors to map the electrical activity of the developing heart of zebrafish embryos. Their hearts are 2,500 times smaller than human hearts.
This technology is the first significant update to fetal heart monitors in 40 years, and could revolutionize the way heart-related congenital disorders are detected during pregnancy. It also has the potential to highlight the need for medical interventions - such as umbilical cord compression - in an incredibly non-invasive way. According to the research study based on the development of this device, women with high-risk pregnancies who require regular monitoring (those who are diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, preeclampsia and gestational high blood pressure) are also set to benefit from this technology.
"Currently expectant mothers with health concerns about their babies have to go through the stress of going to hospital to check on the heartbeat of their child," said Rendon-Morales. "With this new technology, they will be able to do this from the comfort of their own home, which will be much better for the welfare of mother and baby."
The accuracy of the electrocardiogram is extremely high, capable of correctly recording information required to calculate fetal heart rate and can even isolate the baby's heartbeat from the mother's, providing a simple reading without the need for any additional processing.
"This technology will give peace of mind in providing answers very quickly and ultimately ensuring the baby's wellbeing," said Dr. Rodrigo Aviles-Espinosa, a research fellow at the University of Sussex and co-author of the study. Aviles-Espinosa added that not only does this technology help expectant mothers, it also benefits health service providers through resource optimization.
While there are in fact some commercially available home-based fetal electrocardiograms on the market, unlike Rendon-Morales' prototype, they are not suitable for medical use due to their lack of portability and accuracy.