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26th January 2017

IVF and beyond: the world of mind-blowing baby tech

These days, there’s cutting edge technology for pretty much every aspect of baby planning, making and care.

From wellness apps for expectant moms, to mini-magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines that can scan babies’ brains, to new in vitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques for infertile women hoping to become pregnant, tech has got it covered.

Indeed, a survey by The Bump ‒ the self-proclaimed definitive voice of millennial parents and parents-to-be ‒ reveals that 76% of mums feel technology is an important factor when shopping for baby products, with a majority saying technology gives them peace of mind.

The website recently announced the winners of its Best of Baby Tech Awards, which include, among other innovations:

  • A fertility tracking bracelet that monitors sleep, stress and menstrual cycle in a single device worn only at night, and detects five fertile days per cycle in real time.
  • A smart sock that tracks a baby’s heart rate and breathing, sends the information to your smartphone and sounds an alarm if there are any irregularities.
  • A wearable patch, which continuously senses, records and transmits a child’s body temperature for up to 48 hours to a mobile device via Bluetooth, alleviating many concerns of those caring for an ill child and eliminating the need to continually disturb or wake them.

Baby tech solutions make life more convenient and offer peace of mind, but they also serve an important purpose. Take the smart sock, for example. One grateful mum wrote in to say that it had saved her four-month-old son’s life when it alerted her that he wasn’t breathing properly in the middle of the night.

These gadgets are great for parents and carers to use at home, but what’s out there for health care professionals? The lack of baby-sized medical equipment has been a longstanding and frustrating issue for doctors, but there are ongoing efforts to change that.

UK medical research charity the Welcome Trust is a leader in this area. It has granted millions of pounds to fund research into better tools and imaging techniques that have the potential to improve medical outcomes for both foetuses and newborns.

Most recently, the trust announced its support for a research project led by Professor Paul Griffiths at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals involving an MRI scanner that’s small enough to be used in the neonatal unit, meaning vulnerable babies don’t have to undergo risky journeys to another ward or hospital. The mini-MRI takes high-quality images of babies’ brains and provides more detail than a bedside ultrasound scan, which can lead to a more accurate diagnosis. Right now only two prototypes of the device exist, but it is hoped the scanner will one day be used routinely in neonatal units around the world.

Susie Thoms’ son Toby was scanned as part of the Sheffield research study after being born prematurely and spending a week in neonatal intensive care. “Not having to leave the department was a massive advantage, because having to transfer elsewhere at what is already a difficult time, would be a lot of extra stress for Toby, myself and the teams involved,” she says. Toby is now home and doing well.

Dealing with infertility

When talking about babies and considering that about one in eight couples are unable to conceive naturally, the issue of infertility cannot be overlooked. The good news is that the options for helping infertile couples become parents, including IVF and surrogacy, are growing at breakneck speed. This is due largely to advances in technology.

IVF is a well-documented method of assisted reproduction, especially with celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Sarah Jessica Parker publicly sharing their stories. It’s hard to believe how far things have come since the first IVF baby was conceived in a petri dish.

As an article in The Economist points out, “Today’s IVF babies are made in fancy laboratories where computers monitor the temperature, sterility and a finely tuned mix of medical-grade gases. Sophisticated techniques, such as testing embryos for genetic diseases, promise hopeful parents a greater chance of a healthy baby.”

Now that we’ve got state-of-the-art technology, however, discussions are increasingly centred on how to make the procedure more affordable. “The recent shift of focus from chasing success at any price to curbing costs is as welcome as it is overdue,” it concludes.