11, March 2010
By Sumati Yengkhom & Prithvijit Mitra
Infants Start Communicating Right After Birth, Says SSKM–IIT Research
Infants actually start communicating right after birth, say experts from SSKM Hospital’s neo–natal wing and IIT–Kharagpur who are embarking on a ground–breaking study to decipher how infants communicate.
Babies try to convey their emotions and spell out different moods, they say. It’s just that we do not understand their lingo. The study on the cries of babies will de–mystify and interpret them, decoding the language behind the apparently meaningless sounds that infants emit. This will help in a baby’s treatment and ease the anxiety of parents who, most of the time, have no clue if an infant is crying because of an earache or because he is hungry.
More than 10,000 different baby cries and movements have already been recorded as part of the project, a joint venture project of SSKM Hospital’s neo–natal wing and IIT–Kgp. The two–yearlong study is being funded by the Government of India’s ministry of information and technology.
The ‘cry data’ will be analyzed to decipher the patterns, which will then be compiled into a sort of dictionary – a ready handbook for parents. IIT researchers are also devising a software that will identify for doctors what a bawling child is trying to say about her pain/discomfort. This will help cut down diagnosis time.
“It’s very interesting. Newborns do communicate but no one has ever tried to decode what they are trying to convey. The coming together of doctors and technical people was very essential for this kind of a study. That is why we have tied up with IIT–Kharagpur,” said Dr Arun Singh, head of SSKM’s neo–natal department.
The outcome of the study is expected to benefit both parents and doctors in dealing with newborns. Though launched officially a month ago, doctors at SSKM have been studying the cries of newborns for about a year now.
Along with the study on cries, the project will have two more aspects – studying different movements of the baby to evaluate their neurological development and examine the neonatal brain.
Movements like a newborn’s flapping of eyelids, facial contortions, limb movements and their response to stimuli will be recorded on the camera–fitted software. According to doctors, these movements often reflect deviations like cerebral damage and the overall mental well–being of the baby. Since a baby’s movements are quick and short, the software will capture them and analyze them in slow motion, frame by frame.
“Those who are born with neurological complications often suffer violent seizures. Now, if we record the baby’s movements it could be possible to predict a seizure and ensure quick medical intervention. The software will record the warning signals and alert the medical staff in case there’s an alteration in the neurological state or the heart movements. We are going to focus on ailing infants who need to be under constant surveillance at the intensive care unit,” said A K Majumdar, principal investigator of the project at IIT Kharagpur along with Jayanta Mukhopadhyay. Early detection of neurological disorders could help save lives through preventive treatment, said Singh.
The study of the neo–natal brain function is usually done with the help of an amplified EEG machine. Just two hospitals in India that have the facility and the cost is exorbitant. IIT’s device will replicate the amplified EEG at a much lesser cost.
The software will also be used to record an ailing infant’s physical and mental growth once it has been released from hospital. Generally, they are screened every month on the basis of physical evidence which often turns out to be misleading. “The practice is to measure the baby’s growth in terms of inches and monitor its reactions to detect mental development. It could well be faulty. We are again going to record their movements, postures and reactions to arrive at a more correct indicator. For instance, we can tell if the baby’s growth is right by counting the number of times it wiggles its head. It reflects the stiffening of the neck and often escapes the naked eye,” explained Majumdar.
According to researchers, the software will merely be an aid for the doctors and nurses. “The idea is not mechanize treatment but to improve the patient care system and minimize errors,” said Majumdar.
Not Just Babble
- Babies start communicating at birth, not after they turn one
- They have different cries to indicate if they are hungry, need a nappy changed, are in pain or just want to be cuddled
- A newborn’s flapping of eyelids, facial contortions or limb movements all mean something
- More than 10,000 different baby cries and movements have been recorded as part of SSKM–IIT venture
- The data will be deciphered and turned into a handbook for parents and doctors
- IIT researchers devising a software to help doctors identify what a bawling child is trying to say
- Researchers will also analyse baby movements to chart growth patterns and identify developmental problems
- The study may help predict seizures in infants and allow doctors to take preventive action.
- Early detection of neurological disorders could help save lives