Every year, around 15 million babies in the world are born too early, according to the World Health Organization.
More than a million of those premature babies die shortly after birth. Others suffer lifelong physical or neurological disabilities.
The greatest challenges facing doctors dealing with premature babies with low birth weight is maintaining their body temperature and preventing dehydration.
Scientists in Poland are currently testing specially designed clothes that would sustain a premature baby’s body temperature at a desired level. The so-called “smart clothes” are made of two layers – a conventional fabric and a membrane – designed to stop excessive sweating.
“This smart fabric protects the premature child in the very first hours after birth. It stops moisture being expelled from the child’s body before the baby is put into an incubator. The baby has to be examined first and then it is put in an incubator. This is the moment when excessive sweating has to be stopped,” says Ewa Skrzetuska, a researcher on the project.
The smart clothes are currently being tested on a small dummy, equipped with sensors to reproduce the way a newborn child sweats and loses body moisture. Skin on premature babies is not fully-developed – putting the child in contact with inappropriate clothing can be dangerous. It’s hoped this clothing will prevent babies from catching an infection in the first moments immediately after birth.
Clinical tests should take another two years, after which the clothes could go into production.