About one in ten babies born in the U.S. is delivered pre-term, before completing 37 weeks of pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest report on premature birth rates also states that babies’ brains, lungs, and liver complete full development during the last weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies have a lower survival rate than full-term babies. Compared with full-term infants, survivors are more likely to have breathing and feeding problems, vision and hearing impairment, developmental delays, and cerebral palsy. Low birth weight and premature babies are placed in neonatal incubators to protect them from temperature changes and insulate them from noise, germs, and stress. The incubator isolates the babies from human contact, however, especially the supportive, familiar contact with their birth mothers. We’ve written about Voice of Life, an app-based recorder that plays the mother’s voice and heartbeat for babies in incubators. We also covered Lund University‘s work with blue light lasers to monitor incubated babies oxygenated blood and Hugsy, a wrappable blanket that plays back the mother’s heartbeat.
Chilean startup BabyBe Medical has developed what it refers to as an “emotional prosthesis” for premature babies. The Babybe system demonstrated its safety and feasibility for use with newborn infants in a clinically validated study in 2015 at the San Borja Arriaran Hospital Clinic. Babybe’s three components include a mother module “turtle” that senses her heartbeat and breathing motion, a control module that transmits the signals from the turtle to control the motion of the third element, the Babybe Bionic Mattress. The mattress replicates the mother’s heartbeat and breathing motion. In the hospital clinic study, researchers found using the Babybe system with extremely premature babies of less than 32 weeks and or less than 1500 grams (3.3 pounds) birthweight could reduce breathing rates and increase weight gain in the first 30 minutes to 48 hours after birth. Lowered breathing rate indicates less stress and higher weight hastens the time when babies can leave incubators and return to their mothers.
BabyBe Medical seeks hospital partners to continue its development of the Babybe system to provide emotional support for premature babies through connection with their mother. The company positions the system as a complementary device for neonatal incubators, radiant heat warm beds, and normal hospital beds.