In the womb, a baby’s lungs are full of liquid and they receive oxygen through the mother’s placenta. If all goes well, the baby’s body absorbs this liquid during birth and emerges to take their first breath in a process called “lung aeration.” Unfortunately, in some cases, complications require doctors to use a bulb syringe or even intubation to help an infant breathe. A new technique is addressing this issue using non-invasive and radiation-free electrical impedance tomography (EIT) to see in real-time the details of a baby’s first breaths.
Difficulty with lung aeration occurs in about 10 percent of infants, primarily in preterm babies, but EIT offers a solution for faster intervention for better outcomes. So how does it work? The technique uses a custom-built silk belt containing electrodes that are placed around an infant’s chest. The electrodes collect data and doctors combine this with audio and video recordings of the newborn to quickly assess their lung health.
Using the technology, researchers conducted a study with 17 healthy babies. They monitored breathing as early as 30 seconds after birth and captured data which is already revolutionizing our understanding of infant breathing. The researchers uncovered details about the rate at which infants usually move from crying to regular breathing and even that infants favor their right lung over their left immediately after birth.
The researchers hope that the technique will continue to unveil more details about infant health and eventually allow for a more rapid diagnosis of both immediate and long-term potential lung health issues. The non-invasive nature of the technology means it could easily be rapidly scaled up as a tool for preventative and diagnostic medicine around the world.