Is It Really Labor? A New At-Home Monitor Can Tell You

New technology lets you safely record what's going on with your contractions, so you know when to chill and when to head to the hospital.

Bloomlife Contraction Monitor Courtesy of Bloomlife
The third trimester can mess with your mind. You're anxious about labor, and every weird sensation has you wondering, "Is this it?" The makers of a new monitoring device say it will be able to tell you what are real contractions, and what aren't—a huge relief for preggos about to pop. But does it work?

A breakthrough in pregnancy tech

Expectant moms wear the small portable sensor, called Bloomlife, which uses bio-electrical signals to detect uterine muscle movements and records the results to a smartphone app. You can track each contraction in real time, helping you learn what they feel like. Because it's normal to have uterine activity at the end of pregnancy, including Braxton Hicks and false labor, the sensor also looks for patterns in frequency and duration to help you identify when real labor is actually happening.

This is a lot different from a plain old contraction app, which is basically a stopwatch—this technology monitors your uterus directly. "Every woman's body and pregnancy are different, therefore their contractions and their 'in labor' timing will be different," biomedical engineer Eric Dy, co-founder and CEO of Bloomlife, tells Fit Pregnancy. "Bloomlife looks at trends over time, and can detect changes in contraction patterns that are often indicative of labor."

Armed with the data, you and your doctor can then decide when you need to make a move to Labor and Delivery. Although it seems like an at-home device might make you more likely to freak out and rush to the hospital, Dy says that's not the case. "Amongst our 500 plus expectant moms in our beta, we have found the opposite," he says. "We have heard from numerous early users that Bloomlife brought them peace of mind, saved them a trip to the doctor, and provided them with useful information that helped them better communicate with both their partner and doctor."

Clara Ward, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, says that the sensor may not be able to tell you everything, so you still need to listen to your body. "Contractions can be a normal part of pregnancy, or they can indicate that some intervention is warranted, such as hydration, treatment of a urinary tract infection, and of course, labor," she tells Fit Pregnancy. "The home uterine contraction monitoring systems can't sort this out and they can't detect which contractions may be causing cervical change." Dy says his team is developing the ability to differentiate whether a specific contraction is Braxton Hicks or real labor, as well as predict labor based on physiological changes. But for now, although Bloomlife may give you more info, you should still call your doctor if you feel like something isn't right.

How to wear it

Bloomlife's wireless sensor goes in a little pouch you stick on your belly. It's safe to use all day, or you can check in with it in the evening, or wear overnight to record a daily pattern of activity. "Bloomlife is designed to be worn throughout the third trimester," Dy says. "We have seen high-risk moms, those with prior pregnancy complications, or those with lots of early contractions tend to use the product longer, for the entire third trimester. Other moms generally use it the last six to eight weeks."

Because the technology has been thoroughly studied, Dy says getting false readings are rare. "Bloomlife has been validated against hospital-based tocodynamometers [the monitors you get hooked up to while in labor, which measure uterine pressure changes] in multiple studies including over 200 moms," he says. "We have shown clinical equivalence on par with the toco." But what about the fact that Bloomlife is portable, and a woman wearing it could be bouncing around—does that affect the results? "We compensate for false readings, or motion artifacts, through multi-sensor modeling and nested machine learning," he says. Basically, the technology recognizes other sources of movement and adjusts accordingly.

What's even better about a portable contraction monitor is that eventually it could replace the bulky hospital machines that tether pregnant women to their beds, restricting the movement that could actually help labor along. In addition, crowdsourcing data results could help doctors better predict and manage complications to improve birth outcomes.

Bloomlife is available online for rental only, because buying it would be way too expensive. As it is, it's not cheap—$149 for one month, $249 for two and $299 for three—but it might be worth the peace of mind. "Some women may find the information provided by the device more anxiety provoking," Dr. Ward says. "But if you find that a home uterine monitoring system provides added benefits in timing contractions, there is no harm."