Dual wireless sensors – The chest sensor (left) measures 5 × 2.5 cm; the foot sensor (right) is 2.5 × 2 cm. Both sensors weigh as much as a raindrop. (Credit: Northwestern)

Researchers have developed a pair of soft, flexible wireless body sensors that replace the tangle of wire-based sensors that currently monitor babies in hospitals’ neonatal intensive care units (NICU) and pose a barrier to parent-baby cuddling and physical bonding.

The dual wireless sensors monitor babies’ vital signs — heart rate, respiration rate and body temperature — from opposite ends of the body. One sensor lies across the baby’s chest or back, while the other sensor wraps around a foot. (The chest sensor measures 5 × 2.5 cm; the foot sensor is 2.5 × 2 cm). This strategy allows physicians to gather an infant’s core temperature as well as body temperature from a peripheral region.

Physicians also can measure blood pressure by continuously tracking when the pulse leaves the heart and arrives at the foot. Currently, there is not a good way to collect a reliable blood pressure measurement. A blood pressure cuff can bruise or damage an infant’s fragile skin.

The device also could help fill in information gaps that exist during skin-to-skin contact. If physicians can continue to measure infants’ vital signs while being held by their parents, they might learn more about just how critical this contact might be. Transparent and compatible with imaging, the sensors also can be worn during x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans.