The heartbeat of an unborn child says a lot about the child’s development, such as congenital heart defects. That is why the heart rate is measured regularly, both during pregnancy and during childbirth. At present, obstetricians and gynecologists work with ultrasound technology in order to do this. An ultrasound transducer is placed on the mother’s abdomen and sends sound frequencies to the baby. The sound bounces off the beating heart. The movement of the heart changes the frequency of the reflected sound. This is how the heartbeat can be measured. The problem with this technology, however, is that the sound also bounces off other tissue in the abdomen. If the baby or the mother moves, the heartbeat can often no longer be measured properly. As a result, this heart rate measurement is only accurate in about seventy percent of cases.
Early this century, a young gynecologist at the Dutch Máxima Medical Center, Dr. Guid Oei, outlined the problem at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). This prompted Rik Vullings to look for new measurement methods as part of his graduation research. He discovered that electrodes on the abdomen give a much more accurate picture of the heart rhythm: “Our nervous system gives off electrical stimuli to the muscles that cause them to move. The heart, with a relatively large amount of muscle tissue, has a very recognizable electrical pattern. In principle, therefore, it is possible to make this signal visible, which is hidden among all kinds of other signals and noise. This is not easy, but we managed to do this at Nemo Healthcare,” Vullings explains.