Pulsating bed could prevent brain damage in premature babies
When a baby is born premature, it's vitally important that the infant's still-developing brain receive enough oxygen. A new medical device could help, by mimicking the heartbeat and breathing of a parent.
Both adults and babies tend to breath more shallowly when they're psychologically stressed. This decreases the amount of air they take in, which in turn decreases the oxygen level in their bloodstream. As a result, less oxygen reaches the brain – if this happens too often or for too long in a premature baby, brain damage may occur.
And that's where the Calmer baby bed comes in. It was developed by a team at Canada's University of British Columbia – led by Drs. Liisa Holsti and Karon Maclean – and is designed to be placed inside an incubator. As the premature infant lies on it, the device rises and falls, simulating both the respiration and heartbeat of a parent holding the baby.
Of course, it would be best if a parent or other caregiver were able to actually do so themselves. This isn't always possible in busy neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), however – particularly during the current pandemic, when visitation to such areas is strictly limited.
In a clinical trial performed at the NICU of the BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre, 16 premature babies were held by a caregiver (and given a pacifier) while having a routine blood sample drawn, while 12 others were instead placed on the Calmer as the same painful procedure was performed. When the infants' brain oxygen levels were measured immediately afterwards, they were found to be the same for both groups ... suggesting that use of the Calmer is as effective as actually being held.
"We were very pleased that our preliminary trial results showed that Calmer has the potential to benefit these infants whose brains are particularly vulnerable to pain and stress," says Holsti. "We are expanding our evaluation of this device in more rigorous real-world conditions, and we're in the process of redesigning it to be used in low- and middle-income countries."
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Pain Reports.