A high-tech inflatable pillow that claims to prevent babies from developing misshapen, flat-sided heads is in development, and its inventors say they hope the device will help provide new parents with some added peace of mind.
The smart baby pillow is the brainchild of three South Korean students from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and the concept is simple. When babies are born, their skulls remain malleable. Because of this, infants are susceptible to developing flat head syndrome, a condition that occurs when a child repeatedly lies on their back to sleep.
The condition is not harmful and does not hinder brain development. But it can mold a person’s head to make it appear asymmetrical.
The condition is typically prevented by moving a child and placing them in different sleeping positions throughout the day.
To prevent flat head syndrome, the students designed a donut-shaped pillow hooked up to a special sensor, which constantly monitors the position of a newborn’s head.
The sensor then adjusts the volume of air in the pillow to allow for what researchers call “a perfectly symmetrical skull.”
“This saves the trouble of attempting to change a newborn’s head in different positions every one to two hours,” the students said in a statement.
“We came up with the idea to help new parents who are in drastic need of sleep … We wanted to help them relax and rest at least when their babies are asleep.”
Their invention has already earned accolades. The device recently won a gold medal at the science and technology-based Business Idea Contest, sponsored by South Korea’s Ministry of Science.
The smart pillow isn’t on the market yet, but the team – consisting of students Tae Hun Chung, Dong-Cheol Lim and HyeWon Cho – plans to have a prototype built in early 2018.
Their ultimate plan is to put the device on the market and, eventually, develop the invention into a medical device.
Besides preventing flat head syndrome, the team says they hope to make the first stages of parenting a little less hectic.
“The device itself would certainly be a great help for those stressed-out parents,” says HyeWon said. “By allowing mothers to have some relaxation time, it can also help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.”
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends against keeping any soft materials in a baby’s crib, including pillows, quilts, bumper pads, and stuffed animals. It says soft materials are not safe because babies can turn onto their sides or stomachs, bury their faces into the materials, and suffocate.