Newborn baby Newborn baby A newborn baby posing for a photo. (Photo: Ahturner / Shutterstock)

Doctors develop new baby-measuring technique

Non-invasive method uses stereoscopic photography and may be gentler on newborns.

The moment after they enter this world, newborn babies are pricked, poked, prodded and stretched. The first measurements taken after they’re born are used as important markers of growth for the rest of their childhood. There is obvious discomfort for the newborn when he is stretched out on the table for as accurate a measurement as possible, and if the infant is crying or moving around, the measurement may not be that accurate at all.

One team of medical researchers has developed a non-invasive method of measuring newborns that will do away with the need for stretching and pulling completely, and is just as accurate, if not more so, as the old method. The technique, which has been called  kinder and gentler since it doesn't require touching the baby, was developed by a research team led by professors at Tel Aviv University.

"We wanted to develop an accurate, reliable, and practical tool for infant length measurement to facilitate evaluation and follow-up of growth without exposing newborns to a cold environment, infection, or discomfort," Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Nir Sokolover told Medical XPress.

Gabriella Friedman, a New Jersey-based neonatal nurse, called the new technique promising. "In general, in the first few hours of the baby's life, it's important to let the baby acclimate to its new world naturally,” Friedman told From The Grapevine. "However, these first measurements are important markers of growth and future care. This new technology, which makes getting that first number more accurately and with as little intervention as possible, is definitely appealing.”

Prior to this method, there were two standards for newborn measurement in most hospitals today: the tape-measure technique and the length-board technique. The tape-measure technique involves putting a pencil mark on the paper just above the baby’s head, stretching out his heel, and placing another pencil mark on the paper there. Once that’s done, a measuring tape is used to record a baby’s length. Alternatively, a flexible tape measure is placed next to the newborn while a nurse or the father stretches the baby out. Either way, this method is known to be less accurate than what the Journal of Pediatrics calls the “gold standard” of newborn measurement in hospitals today, which is the length-board technique.

The  length-board technique involves placing a baby on a length-board (a hard surface with a fixed headboard and a movable footboard specially calibrated for measuring purposes). The baby is stretched, the footboard is moved out to the bottom of the infant’s heel, and then the measurement is read down to the millimeter, ensuring a more accurate (albeit uncomfortable) reading of a newborn’s length.

Newborn baby(Photo: Katrina Elena/Shutterstock)

Whichever method is used, measuring a newborn in one of these ways was always deemed absolutely necessary after birth. Until now.

The new method uses a stereoscopic system, which takes four pictures of different quadrants of the infant, from heel to crown. The pictures are taken using two digital cameras connected through a computer – the numbers gleaned from each of these pictures are used to come up with a cumulative measurement of the infant’s length. The cameras do not reflect any light or radiation on the infants.

The team recently did a clinical study involving the method using 54 infants, and found that the accuracy was within .2 millimeters of the more traditional method. 

The method could be extremely important in the neonatal ICU, where many babies cannot leave their incubators for even the small amount of time it takes to do a measurement. "We are now testing a new and improved prototype of our system and clinically validating its ability to measure through incubators," said Sokolover. "We are encouraged by the results so far and by positive feedback from both local and international colleagues."

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