Every kick counts: the Biopad monitor keeps track of baby’s kicks and somersaults inside the womb.

Digital moms, dads, and grandparents-to-be will be happy to have baby “connected” to Israel’s latest high-tech tool. Hooked to an iPhone, Blueberry or other handheld device from one end, and a bulging baby belly on the other, the Biopad device keeps track of baby’s kicks and somersaults, inside the womb.

For the meantime, the device will be marketed as an entertainment tool: its developers plan on pairing babies’ kicks, registered by the super-sensitive monitor, to animated baby movements on a screen, showing mothers who can’t feel the kicks, when the baby is moving. She can take this info and the experience, and share it with loved ones.

But Biopad is more than a fun way to keep tabs on a baby’s kicks and somersaults in the womb. It can save lives. According to Hanoch Kaftzan, the company’s CEO, 10 times more babies die from stillbirth than sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the United States, amounting to about 30,000 of all births each year.

This tragic loss, which few can prepare for, can be avoided in some cases if women had a way to monitor the kick rate of her baby starting from week 22 of pregnancy, Kaftzan tells ISRAEL21c.

The story started 30 years ago in Israel

Back in the early 1970s, Prof. Eliahu Sadovsky from Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem conducted some interesting research and found a direct correlation between fetal movement and stillbirth. Confirmed by researchers around the world, today clinicians rely on the observation of kick rates in the womb, and in some cases ask moms-to-be to count kicks. This was the basis for the Biopad.

“We were thinking about how to make the pregnancy experience fun, and were always planning on an active device, one that gives you feedback,” says Kaftzan. “Many women don’t feel the baby kick, it?s hard for them to tell.”

After conducting some research on pregnant women, Kaftzan and his two partners started developing the Biopad. The company was founded in 2004, and from there went on to raise $3 million — from the biomedical firm Synova Healthcare, the Office of the Chief Scientist in Israel, and cash from family and friends.

Promoting pregnancy in the office

Kaftzan jokes: “We preferred always to hire women. You could say we were the only company in the world who encouraged their women employees to get pregnant,” he tells ISRAEL21c, happy to report that three babies were born during the development stage of the Biopad device.

The prototype is ready now, and it has been tested out in several groups of women, but after Biopad’s major investor and strategic partner went bankrupt early in 2008, Biopad had to rethink its direction. Rather than spend hundreds, if not millions of dollars going through the lengthy FDA regulatory process to be registered as a medical device in the US, the company decided to shift gears.

“We started to look at how we could revise our strategy to get to market as soon as possible,” says Kaftzan. “We were looking at applications that don’t require FDA. The final version we?re working on now is an application and a small device that attaches to your belly for 20 minutes, via a thin cable from the Blackberry, iPhone or another handheld device.”

Uploading baby’s movements

With the same basic premise behind the original medical device, the Biopad baby kick monitor is applied to a woman’s belly three times a day. The data is automatically loaded into the handheld device using software downloaded from the company?s website (in future the company hopes to create a strategic partnership with Apple enabling users to download it from Apple as well), allowing the mother, friends and family, to monitor baby kicks for themselves.

“There are a percentage of stillborn births we can save,” says Kaftzan. “If you are detecting the activity of the baby, and notice activity is decreasing over time, there is something you can do.”

Users can even upload special songs to their iPhone to soothe baby in the womb, or check via kick rates, if baby is happy with mom’s love for Death Metal music or chilly peppers. “It will not be a pure medical device,” Kaftzan agrees, hinting that there are lots of surprises in store. “It’s more for relaxation and the reassurance of the mother. It can give her an indication that the baby’s activity is high or low.”

Biopad, located in Tel Aviv, has scaled down from its company of 12 to the three primary founders, now actively seeking $700,000 in investment to bring Biopad to commercialization. If investment comes in tomorrow, it will take about nine months, the time for a baby to grow and be born, until the product is on the shelves, predicts Kaftzan.