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Invention lets newborns in incubators feel mom's heartbeat

Intel "Make it Wearable" finalist Team Babybe created a wearable that lets preemies or other babies in incubators feel their parents' heartbeat while separated.

The day my son was born was one of the happiest days of my life. It was also one of the scariest, as just minutes after he was born, baby and I were rushed to the NICU (the neonatal intensive care unit, for the uninitiated) to address some respiratory issues that came up during the birthing process. The NICU is a scary place, and one of the more challenging aspects of the first few days is how much time your baby spends in the incubator, away from the human touch both you and your little one crave.

Team Babybe, a recently announced finalist in Intel's Make it Wearable challenge, has come up with a prototype mattress that helps bring back some of that closeness. The mattress is built to feel just like real human skin, and a teddy-bear-size sensor is worn on the parent's chest to detect his or her heartbeat and breathing patterns. Information from the sensor is sent to a control module, which transmits that information to a pneumatic pump in the mattress that makes the mattress move so the baby can actually feel the parent's heartbeat and when he or she takes a breath.

The prototype was tested on a real-life premature baby at the Hospital San Borja Arriaran in Santiago, Chile, by creators Camilo Andrés Anabalón Alamos and Raphael P.M. Lang. The couple's midwife, Sebastian Estobar Alvarado, noted that while clinical trials were obviously needed to prove the device's effectiveness, the birth team witnessed dramatic effects on the baby. Alvorado stated that the Babybe prototype improved the infant's blood pressure, decreased the heart rate, and helped the baby become more calm.

Babybe could help get premature babies out of the incubator faster than the standard model, its creators claim. And even just one day, or one hour, of incubator-free time could make a world of difference in a family's life. The best part of our NICU stay was when we could finally hold our son after he transitioned out of the incubator and into the standard bassinet. We were just overwhelmed with a sense of relief that our child had gotten through the worst of it.

Once the clinical trials are completed, the team wants to see Babybe in every hospital in every NICU around the world. If the device pans out, they could be on their way to achieving that lofty goal.

The winner of Intel's Make It Wearable challenge will be announced on November 3.