Beyond the baby monitor

baby monitoring

Did I mention that I am currently part of a science experiment?

Sure, there is a sample size of one so I can’t promise a powerful data set coming out that would revolutionize how we think about pregnancy but maybe…

Anyway, as soon as I announced my pregnancy to the world last spring, a fellow postdoc, who is interested in biological rhythms in humans and other furry creatures, immediately jumped at the chance to make me a lab rat.  “Can I wire you up?”, he asked.

My first thought was that I was going to have electrodes attached all over my body for the next six months.  So, of course, I responded “Hell yeah!”

How could I resist?

Luckily, I do not have to wear multiple electrodes on my increasingly uncomfortable body, but I have been wearing an armband with a little data collector attached to it.  It is actually marketed for the much more lucrative fitness and weight loss industry (technically an “on-body monitoring system”) and it monitors aspects of everyday life from steps taken (your standard pedometer) to calories burned (changes in body temperature) to sleep patterns (are you laying still or moving around a lot).

So far, we have only peeked at the output with plans to really get into the data once the womb baby has joined the world. My predictions – my sleep will get progressively crappier (I can see that 3am wake up, toss and turn, and every additional midnight trip to the bathroom), the number of steps I will take will decrease and calories burned will …. well, that one will be interesting (Can we see if I’m actually “eating for two”?)

While I’m quite interested to see what information my friend can actually mine from this data set, I don’t have my hopes up too high.  It feels very limited.

But is there a way to glean even more information from our pregnant bodies?  A way to glean more information about this tiny stranger that we are building and carrying around inside our body for 9+ months? 

Looking around for this kind of technology it appears that there are quite a few things out there for understanding our own bodies… to some degree.  For example, fitness buffs and not-so-buffs looking to get into shape are using things like BodyMedia (what I currently have strapped to my arm), FitBit, and Jawbone UP.  Again, think fitness, these guys are really out for quantifying your physical output and come with handy apps to also keep track of your eating patterns, weight, etc.  They also claim to measure sleep “efficiency” but really they just rely on an accelerometer to say “ooh, movement! fitful sleep!” or “no movement, must be cruisin’ in deep sleep”.  Interesting, but not completely insightful (and maybe not even that accurate!)

In addition, there has been a burst of technology coming out to monitor babies’ bodies as well. Mimo, comes with a cute little “turtle” that attaches to a special electrode equipped onesie and tracks sleep trends and development and can also alert the parents about changes in breathing, sleep position, temperature, and waking patterns. Owlet, is a little foot cuff thing that tracks baby heart rate and oxygen levels.  Sproutling is another wearable for the baby’s ankle that monitors heart rate and breathing along with a base station that measure temperature and humidity in the room. Teddy the Guardian by iDerma is a special teddy bear that will take the kid’s temperature and oxygen saturation.  This one requires the kid to actually grab onto the bear’s paw for a reading.  With a name like Teddy the Guardian, I would actually be a little frightened that the thing might grab back, Poltergeist-style, so I don’t know about this one.

It is hard to escape the fact that we live in a world revolving around technology.  Through our keyboard, we literally have information at our fingertips (although, I must say, I am not impressed with much of the pregnancy “advice” coming up on Google).  Is monitoring our own bodies and our babies’ bodies the next step in the fully informed patient generation?

Is having access to this level of knowledge about your baby empowering or neuroses enabling?

What do we need to know?  What do we want to know?  Where is the line?

What can we learn about pregnancy if devices are available or adapted for pregnant women to track biological rhythms, changes in womb baby’s movement, heart rate, sleep cycles?

What can we learn about babies when more parents opt to go beyond the baby monitor and keep track of biological details of daily and nightly patterns?

Is this a pediatrician’s worst nightmare or previously unattainable dream?

As I prepare to make this transition from pregnant scientist to mommy scientist, I have just a few more questions for those of you who have gone through all of these stages already.  From what is available and what might become available, what is one thing you wish you could have monitored at any point during pregnancy or infancy?  What kept you up at night, checking on the baby (besides the screaming, feeding, changing part)? Would a little bit of tech have brought you peace of mind?  Or made you crazy?

And what the hell is the point of TweetPee?

Please leave comments below!

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2 comments

  1. Dawn

    Ok, my kids are not even that old (7 & 11), and I didn’t have anything more than a walkie talkie – it was perfect. There were times even with that, that we would turn it off – so we could actually get some sleep and not be constantly listening. We figured, if there was really a problem, we would hear them through the walls. Remember – your sleep is also very important!!

  2. eric

    I think the idea of applying wearable sensors to specific markets or areas or times in a persons life where they have specific needs has its pros/cons. From a user standpoint having something that is specifically addressing MY needs (so long as the price is right) could be great!

    While I have no kids at the moment for sure having them is a transformational time and for first time parents comes with many big unknowns and questions. I’m sure preggers are Googling all the time with questions and concerns they have. If you could have more immediate feedback on the health of your baby at any time that could be very powerful. If its accurate it can def provide peace of mind. Accuracy and reliability though are the foundation to building the trust.

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