Hopes of cutting stillbirth rate
New technology could help prevent stillbirths, the University of Ulster has said.
Careful monitoring could provide an early warning telling doctors when a baby's life is at risk. Sophisticated computer programmes would use ultrasound scan images to analyse the risk, a researcher added.
Around 4,000 babies are stillborn every year across the UK. Many bereaved mothers said in the days before a stillbirth the pattern of their baby's movements seemed to decrease and there was not as much moving and kicking.
UU expert Dr Joan Condell said: "While our work is still at an early stage, ultimately we hope to develop a mobile device which pregnant women could use while they are up and about. Data from the device could be relayed wirelessly to a computer and monitored by medical staff."
She added: "The loss of a stillborn baby can be truly heartbreaking."
Although some women are known to be more at risk of having a stillborn child because of medical conditions like diabetes and obesity, for many others the death comes out of the blue and more than half of stillbirths remain unexplained.
Dr Condell added: "Pregnant women can find it difficult to cope if they know they are at increased risk of having a stillbirth so we urgently need better ways to monitor the wellbeing of their babies."
Ultrasound scans of healthy women who are five or six months pregnant are being used by researchers as part of the work.
Dr Condell said: "Ultrasound scans provide moving pictures of the babies in the womb and researchers are assessing whether it is possible to recognise and analyse the babies' movements using state-of-the-art computer programs, which incorporate pattern-recognition software."
Similar software is already in widespread use for other purposes like analysing CCTV footage from security surveillance systems and during computer-assisted surgery.