Existing pregnancy monitoring technology is insufficiently capable of timely detecting threats for fetal or maternal wellbeing. Consequently, in clinical practice, treatment possibilities are limited and sometimes it is difficult to act adequately and prevent damage. The availability of technology that is more capable of timely detecting risks, would enlarge treatment possibilities and therefore would be beneficial for the health of newborns.
For more than three decades, the simultaneous registration of fetal heart activity and uterine activity (cardiotocography) has been the standard in fetal monitoring. Cardiotocographic traces require visual interpretation by the medical staff. For accurate registration, it is necessary to perform invasive measurements, which is possible only during labor (when membranes have ruptured). Unfortunately, the predictive value of cardiotocography is poor. Often, additional information is required to reliably assess the condition of the unborn child. Usually, this information is obtained by measuring the pH of a fetal blood sample. However, fetal blood sampling is also an invasive procedure, and only provides information on the fetal condition at a specific moment.
Births at gestational ages of less than 36 weeks are considered premature. In case of extreme prematurity, organs have not yet fully developed and the newborn is in direct need of intensive care. Preterm birth is the major cause of infant mortality. As the chances of survival increase with gestational age, it is desired to postpone birth as long as medically responsible. Consequently, early detection of preterm labor is essential. Unfortunately, no adequate means currently exist to do this. Partially, this is caused by the difficulties of distinguishing between harmless (Braxton Hicks) contractions of the uterus and actual contractions that lead to birth.
There is a need to reduce overall healthcare costs. By providing better quality information, better treatment decisions are taken. Both for asphyxia and preterm delivery, substantial healthcare improvements can be achieved by timely detection of risks. This will lead to a reduction of unplanned interventions, such as Cesarean sections due to overstimulation of contractions. In general, C-sections are twice as expensive as vaginal births, and have an increased risk of follow up care due to unexpected complications.