New fetal monitoring device a game changer for midwifery
For many women, the precious and life-changing transition to motherhood begins with labour and childbirth. With the right support and in the appropriate environment, most women can have a positive childbirth experience that results in a healthy mother and a healthy baby.
Women with complications, and the midwives caring for them, may face additional challenges due to the need for increased levels for monitoring and intervention. While healthcare technologies that can enhance the clinical management of labour and childbirth have been developed, there is a growing awareness that the increased medicalisation of childbirth may lead to higher rates of caesarean section and has the capacity to undermine a woman's psychological experience of giving birth.
Leading healthcare technology company Philips has recently developed a new cordless fetal monitoring device that is designed to make mothers more comfortable throughout labour and birth and improve the experience of their caregivers, too. The small, lightweight, cordless and beltless pod with adhesive patches uses ECG and EMG signals to extract fetal and maternal heart rates and uterine activity from the mother's abdomen. This beltless solution provides maximum mobility and allows for the natural physiological processes of childbirth to occur.
Dr Deborah Fox, midwifery researcher and international clinical leader in fetal monitoring, believes this new technology will lead to improved wellbeing and better outcomes for mothers and babies as well as improving the quality of care provided by midwives.
Our hypothesis is that increased uptake of such technologies has the potential to reduce rates of caesarean section and other interventions in childbirth, and increase women's sense of choice and control in labour and birth.
Existing research shows that freedom of movement may significantly shorten labour, reduce the likelihood of caesarean section and assisted vaginal birth, reduce the need for drugs for pain management and decrease the number of episiotomies. This technology is especially advantageous for women with a BMI of over 30 - approximately half of the women of childbearing age in Australia - and women with comorbidities.
Dr Fox is passionate about improving the quality of care of women during pregnancy and childbirth. Since completing her PhD on the processes of intrapartum transfer from planned homebirth to hospital, Dr Fox's research has focussed upon supporting women with complications to have positive childbearing experiences.
This year Dr Fox has consulted for Philips on fetal monitoring and facilitated a number of clinical education workshops on promoting physiological birth experiences for women with complications around Australia and South East Asia.
"I've been working with Philips to help spread awareness of this technology among clinicians in Australia," said Dr Fox, who hopes to secure the necessary funding for research to upscale the use of technology to enable women freedom of movement in childbirth.
Having seen the benefits first-hand, I feel it's important to get the message out there.
The device was launched at the Australia College of Midwives National Conference in Perth last month but is yet to be introduced in Australian hospitals. Dr Fox plans to establish an international multi-site clinical trial that will provide evidence and strategies to support an increase in the uptake of wireless and/or beltless electronic fetal monitoring technologies internationally.
"We have evidence to show that these devices are a more reliable form of fetal monitoring for women and babies with complications, but we don't yet have evidence for the impact of these devices on the clinical experiences of midwives and obstetricians or the experiences of women themselves. This data is crucial for supporting the effective implementation of this technology in hospitals in Australia and around the world.”
Dr Fox presented on the importance of mobility in labour at the 50th Anniversary of Fetal Monitoring event held by Phillips Healthcare in collaboration with the Center for Women's Health at the University of Tübingen in Germany last week. As a result, plans for future industry-funded international research collaboration between the University of Tübingen and the UTS Centre for Midwifery, Child and Family Health are underway.