Games in Science and Technology

Accelerometers Used to Research and Prevent Stillbirths

A Pregnant Belly and Baby KickingA research project led by Professor Paul Colditz, of the University of Queensland in Australia, is developing a new and more practical way of recording foetal movements in the womb. This technology aims to better understand and eventually reduce the number of stillbirths that occur every year.

The technology which is currently on trial with 200 pregnant patients of the Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital uses accelerometers to help detect unborn children’s movements. Accelerometers are often found in video game controllers, such as Sony’s DualShock 3, Nintendo’s Wii Remote, Red Octane’s Guitar Hero controllers and Apple’s iPhone/iPod Touch. Read More...

“Mothers feel their babies moving, but it's often hard for them to pick up all the movements that do occur,” explains Colditz, on his project page.

While ultrasounds are generally the best way of measuring a baby’s movement in the womb, they are expensive and require a pregnant mother to lie still for about half an hour to run the test. Early research results already suggest that this new method is more effective than monitoring foetal heart rates or current ultrasound technology, because doctors are able to assess movement over a period of several weeks.

The device, formally called an ambulatory foetal activity monitor, provides a cheaper and mobile means for researchers to record these movements, without impacting a pregnant woman’s daily activities. Patients simply attach the device to their midsection to record their unborn child’s activity.

“Like most electronics, it is becoming cheaper and we can actually put these little fences on the mother's abdomen and our study is looking at that in the last quarter of pregnancy and really defining just what the foetus is doing in terms of movement,” said Colditz, in a news report.

Australia counts approximately 2,000 stillbirths every year, numbers higher than those of children succumbing to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Colditz explains that babies will slow their movements down in the days before death.

“If we can detect the events that precede that period of compromise that will result in such a severe level of compromise that the foetus goes on to die, then we would be able to intervene and rescue that foetus,” said Colditz.