Soft sensors are first to comprehensively monitor pregnant w
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Laboring mothers have been wearing the same cumbersome, polyester fetal-monitoring belt for decades. Not only can these belts slip out of place, requiring constant adjustment, they—along with the array of other wires taped to the mother for monitoring—tether the mother to the bed. A team of researchers is replacing all the belts and wires with three small, thin, soft, flexible, and comfortable wireless sensors.

Vital signs monitoring is a fundamental component of ensuring the health and safety of women and newborns during pregnancy, labor, and childbirth. This monitoring is often the first step in the early detection of pregnancy abnormalities, providing an opportunity for prompt, effective intervention to prevent maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality.

Contemporary pregnancy monitoring systems require numerous devices wired to large base units; at least five separate devices with distinct user interfaces are commonly used to detect uterine contractility, maternal blood oxygenation, temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and fetal heart rate.

Researchers present an integrated monitoring platform leveraging advanced flexible electronics, wireless connectivity, and compatibility with a wide range of low-cost mobile devices. Three flexible, soft, and low-profile sensors offer comprehensive vital signs monitoring for both women and fetuses with the time-synchronized operation, including advanced parameters such as continuous cuffless blood pressure, electrohysterography-derived uterine monitoring, and automated body position classification.

Successful field trials of pregnant women between 25 and 41 wk of gestation in both high-resource settings and low-resource settings demonstrate the system’s performance, usability, and safety.

"The low-cost wearable sensors are both advanced technologically and highly usable in low-resource settings," the author said. "The sky is the limit for this monitoring technology. I think it will transform maternal-child health outcomes."

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences