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In 2012 an estimated 2.9 million babies died within a month of birth. These were deaths due to causes other than abortion: infections, birth defects, preterm delivery, low birth weight, or complications during childbirth, like suffocation. In many cases, newborn deaths are preventable, but occur in developing countries where good medical care is too expensive or far away for mothers to obtain, according to the World Health Organization.
Thanks to old-fashioned ingenuity, though, simple inventions are aiding difficult deliveries and premature babies, often at low costs appealing to hospitals in developing nations. Here are several recent ones.
The Odón Device, a delivery aid, is named after Jorge Odón, the Argentine car mechanic who invented it. Odón was inspired by a parlor trick in which a cork at the bottom of a bottle is extracted using only a plastic bag. Inflated inside the bottle, the bag creates enough suction to grip the cork and, with a tug, pop it out.
Resembling little more than a plunger and a plastic bag, the Odón Device inflates in the same way around a baby’s head during delivery, allowing a doctor or midwife to gently pull both bag and baby from the birth canal. Now in a testing phase by WHO, the device seems safe and could be a lifesaver during difficult deliveries where vacuum extraction or cesarean section is unavailable. (Forceps, the standard tool, can injure a baby if used improperly.)
A low-cost incubator called Embrace aims to solve a problem associated with early births. Babies born prematurely are often so small they lack body fat needed to regulate their temperature and survive. In poor countries, mothers without access to expensive hospital incubators have resorted to laying their preemies beneath light bulbs.
Embrace looks like a baby-sized sleeping bag. It’s fitted with a pouch containing wax that, once melted in boiling water, releases steady heat as it converts back into a solid. Wrapped around a baby, the incubator maintains a body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit for up to six hours. Embrace is reusable and can work in regions without consistent electricity.
Small newborns sometimes have trouble breathing on their own, and well-equipped hospitals use baby-sized breathing masks and CPAP systems (“continuous positive airway pressure”) to keep little lungs inflated. But the machines can cost $6,000 and are unaffordable in some places.
In response, students at Rice University invented a low-cost ($160) infant CPAP system for hospitals in Malawi. The size of an inkjet printer, the device is built with aquarium pumps and named “bubble CPAP” because of how it blows bubbles inside a clear, water-filled container when functioning properly. Clinical trials in Malawi showed a 27 percent improved survival rate for newborns with respiratory problems who used bubble CPAP. Now, thanks to a healthcare innovation award, a charity plans to distribute the system to hospitals in Tanzania, Zambia, and South Africa.
Closer to home, U.S. hospitals have begun using cold, instead of warmth, to treat newborns deprived of oxygen during birth. “Cooling blankets” filled with chilled liquid work to lower a newborn’s body temperature to about 92° F for 72 hours, slowing metabolism and thereby reducing the chance of long-term brain damage from the lack of oxygen. Afterward, the baby is slowly warmed again—to perfect health, doctors hope.
Apps for life
Sonograms showing life inside the womb are not the only area where technology has allied with the pro-life movement. Smartphones and tablets are joining the cause thanks to a new array of pregnancy apps. These apps show images of fetal development and help women connect to their little ones, even allowing them to hear the baby’s heartbeat. One pro-life group has created an app that alerts Christians when a woman walks into the pregnancy center in their area and asks them to pray.
While the pregnancy apps don’t overtly promote life, they inadvertently do so by revealing to mothers what’s going on inside their bodies. My Pregnancy Today, a free app from BabyCenter, asks users to enter their baby’s due date and creates a countdown, showing schematic drawings of the baby each week and videos describing the baby’s growth in the womb. It describes what mothers should expect to feel each week of the pregnancy.
iPregnancy, includes detailed 2-D and 3-D ultrasound pictures of babies at each week. Descriptions of the baby’s developments accompany the pictures: from his or her first heartbeat to the appearance of eyelashes to the average length and weight of the baby. iPregnancy includes information on how parents can prepare for their baby, and lets them share details of the pregnancy on Facebook and Twitter.
My Baby’s Beat app allows mothers who are 30-40 weeks along to hear their baby’s heartbeat. By placing the phone on a woman’s belly, the phone’s microphone amplifies the heartbeat so mothers can hear it through headphones. Women can record the heartbeat and share it on social media.
Even men can get onboard with mPregnancy for Men with Pregnant Women, which compares the size of the developing baby to such “guy” objects as footballs. It includes a “Score Board” to keep track of how far along the baby is and how much time the future father has left “as a free man.” Using humor, it gives tips on how the father can prepare for the baby and help make the pregnancy easier for women.
Pro-life groups also are using apps. Online for Life uses internet marketing strategies to help pregnancy centers find women vulnerable to abortions. Online for Life uses banner ads, blogs, social media, and search engine optimization so women searching abortion-related terms will discover a link to a pregnancy center or a pro-life group. In the past year the number of abortion-vulnerable women finding help at pregnancy centers Online for Life serves has quadrupled.
“Our hope is that we would be able to help the industry see how technology applies to the situation,” said Brian Fisher, the group’s creator.
Online for Life shares graphics on Twitter and Facebook, where it has more than 294,000 likes. It has created an app asking users if they are willing to become prayer partners. The app uses geolocation to find out where the users are located and notifies them when an abortion-vulnerable woman visits a nearby pregnancy center. They send notifications when the woman decides to keep the baby or place the baby for adoption. So far, 1,390 of those women have chosen to carry their baby to term. Fisher said 6,000 people have downloaded the app and 3,500 have committed to pray.
I downloaded the app for a few weeks and found it easy to use, with a map displaying the pregnancy centers in their network. For my region, Los Angeles, it listed a finding of 121,901 searches for abortion online. Those led to 2,089 visits to pregnancy center websites. From that number, 397 people contacted a pregnancy center, and 21 babies were saved. More than 250 people in my area served as prayer partners.
Throughout the day, notifications popped up on my iPhone. One let me know, “Center Bakersfield Pregnancy Center is speaking with someone considering abortion. Will you pray?” Other times I got praise notifications: “Baby 1,100 was saved in Dallas, TX. Share the good news!” The app’s concept of real-time prayer provides opportunities of meaningful engagement for people whose hearts are drawn to at-risk women.
“Our goal,” said Fisher, “is to have hundreds of thousands of people praying.”