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4 Jun 2014

Loughborough engineers help design new water-birth mirror

An engineer discusses the new mirror with stakeholders, midwives and (seated) a new mum An engineer discusses the new mirror with stakeholders, midwives and (seated) a new mum.

Loughborough University engineers have helped design a new tool to make water births safer and easier for both mums-to-be and midwives.

Researchers have invented an illuminated, adjustable mirror that can be used under water when a baby is being born.

The device is the first of its kind and has been developed by a team from Loughborough, the  University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt university.

Carmen Torres, senior lecturer in Loughborough’s School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, said: “This has been a great enterprising opportunity for us engineers.

"Being able to form a team with engineers, designers, medics and business developers has been truly rewarding. We all showed great enthusiasm and reached out to understand each others’ ‘language’ so we could bring the project to a fruitful completion.

“Working with midwives for the development of a new medical device was great because they were able to provide us with insightful input during the design stages, and with useful feedback in the development phase.

“We hope the device will help the midwives carry out their work in more comfortable conditions, and for future mothers-to-be to benefit from this device that allows them to experience a more dignifying labour.”

The mirror, which has lights around its frame, is mounted securely on a flexible pole.

Its design makes it easier for midwives to see when a baby’s head crowns – the moment when the head first becomes visible.

As the baby’s head crowns, midwives assist the infant’s entry into the water.

Midwives currently have to bend over the side of a pool and, with one hand, hold a mirror under the water to look for the baby’s head crowning, while shining a torch above with the other hand.

Researchers say that although this approach is safe, the new tool would improve the process for midwives, as they would no longer need to use two instruments, nor adopt an awkward position for a long time.

It could also make having a water birth more pleasant and dignified for women.

Around 48,000 women in the UK have a water birth every year. Experts say that giving birth in a water pool is an effective form of pain relief and helps many women to feel in control during labour.

Researchers now hope to secure further funding to manufacture the mirror so that clinical trials to test it can begin.

The mirror has been developed with midwives at NHS Lothian Birth Centre in Edinburgh, and engineers and product designers at Loughborough and Heriot Watt.

It is funded by the Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation, Tommy’s and the University of Edinburgh, and has been supported by Edinburgh BioQuarter.

Project leader, Dr Fiona Denison, senior lecturer and honorary consultant in Maternal and Fetal Medicine at the University of Edinburgh’s Tommy’s Centre/Medical Research Council Centre for Reproductive Health, said: “We believe that our tool addresses an unmet clinical need and will help both mothers having water births and midwives who care for them. This prototype has been designed by midwives, for midwives.”

Sheonagh Brook-Smith, lead midwife for the Lothian Birth Centre added: “It is important to try to create a relaxed and calm atmosphere when a woman is in labour. Sometimes, as a midwife, you feel like you need to disrupt this to try and gain a clear view.

“My colleagues and I are excited about the prospect of an instrument that gives you a clear picture of what’s happening without interruption.”

Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR 14/108

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year title in 2008-09 and has been named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and has been voted England's Best Student Experience for six years running in the Times Higher Education league. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In 2015 the University will open an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University in London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.

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