Every year, one out of every nine babies in the U.S. is born premature and can spend weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Now new technology is helping preemies grow faster – and sending them home sooner.
The Pea Pod is a medical device designed to measure the body composition of premature infants. The baby is placed in a heated chamber that looks like a small MRI machine for approximately three minutes. Using a special air displacement method, the machine senses change in pressure and can determine the percentage of body weight that is fat and the percentage that is lean body mass. With this information health care workers can then personalize the baby’s nutritional supplements to help with appropriate weight gain.
The staff at the Cedars-Sinai Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, part of the Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center in Los Angeles, Calif. started using the Pea Pod technology earlier this year. There are only several in use around the country and throughout the world.
Ellen Mack has been a neonatal clinical nurse specialist at Cedars-Sinai for over 17 years, and told FoxNews.com she expects use of the new technology to improve the already good results they produce from current feeding protocols and add additional reassurance for parents.
“We expect the Pea Pod to make a difference for those patients whose needs are not met by our current practices and who need feeding tailored to that specific patient. The Pea Pod may help us identify these patients sooner and thus meet their needs sooner and with greater specificity,” Mack said.
Patients are eligible if they were born weighing less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces, if they were small for their gestational age at birth, or if they must rely on IVs to provide the majority of their nutritional needs for longer than two weeks. The Pea Pod is used on eligible patients once a week.
The technology helps determine how closely the body fat percentage of a specific patient compares to what is normally seen in a healthy term newborn. If the percentage is close, within two standard deviations, then NICU staff stay on track with the kind of supplements they are using and continue to monitor the patient’s overall weight gain.