Facial sense of touch is important to enable babies breastfeed; this new device could help researchers understand when things go wrong.
Babies need a sense of touch in their faces to give contact feedback to the brain, which in turn helps the baby find the nipple to breastfeed.
For example, if a newborn baby’s right cheek is lying on their mother’s breast, the baby feeds back the sensory information from its cheek to the brain, which then signals the baby to turn its head to the right and ‘root’ for the nipple.
However, premature babies often have difficulty feeding, perhaps because their facial sensitivity is underdeveloped. Finding a way to measure brain responses to facial touch is thus important for understanding brain development in newborns and premature babies.
Now, researchers from Imperial College London, UCL, and Campus Bio-Medico University in Italy, have developed a 3D printed device to study the sense of touch in babies’ faces. Until now, there were no suitable methods to activate and measure brain activity using touch in newborns.
The authors of the report, published in PLOS One, say the success of their device could add to the knowledge of breastfeeding in newborns, and could be used in the future to help premature babies to feed.