Cradles of love

UNC researcher partners with NC State industrial design students to create innovative new bassinet

With the growing trend of keeping newborns in their mother’s hospital room post-delivery, hospitals must ensure that mothers are able to safely transfer their babies from and back to the bassinet for feeding, other care, and sleeping. A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher hopes to help that effort.

During doctoral work at Durham University in England, Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute research associate Kristin Tully led a study in which “side-car” bassinets attached to the side of the hospital bed improved the mother-newborn experience, including reducing risks for infants. A few hospitals globally have adopted these type of hospital infant bassinets. With no equivalent in the U.S., Tully decided to create her own version.

Tully’s program of research includes observational work, studying mothers and babies with infra-red cameras in the hospital and at home to study patterns of behavior and breastfeeding.

"That’s how this project came about – thinking about the patients and wanting to support the realization of their infant feeding goals"

“Current U.S. bassinets are designed for a nurse to access the baby instead of the mom interacting with the baby,” she said. “That’s the foundational point. Postnatal units are lacking innovation to optimally accommodate mother-newborn needs. That’s how this project came about – thinking about the patients and wanting to support the realization of their infant feeding goals. If you have to get out of bed to safely access your baby, that’s a barrier to recovery and wellness being caused by the medical system.”

Tully said some new mothers are initially physically unable to get out of bed without assistance or have difficulty handling their baby due to the high walls of existing bassinets, increasing the risk of dropping the infant. When nurses are called upon to help, it means they might be away from other patients in the ward with medical needs.

Tully assembled a team of investigators from across UNC-Chapel Hill departments, including Catherine Sullivan, director of the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute (CGBI) at the Gillings School of Global Public Health; Dr. Carl Seashore, an associate professor of pediatrics; and Dr. Alison Stuebe, an associate professor in maternal-fetal medicine and distinguished scholar in infant and young child feeding at Gillings. The team collected data from health care providers and new parents through a large survey to inform the bassinet development.

“I think that enabling maternal-newborn access through bassinets designed for them will be the next layer of the standard of healthcare; it is what makes sense,” she said. “Because our published work, I am frequently contacted by women’s hospitals asking for guidance on obtaining these type of bassinets for clinical use, but there is a gap in the U.S. market. I said, ‘Well, then let’s make one.’ ”She submitted a proposal to the North Carolina Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and was granted their greatest level of support, an Improving Human Health Award.

Building the prototype

Tully and her team sought out the industrial design skillset to develop a prototype. They knew the idea was not only feasible, but could change the way postnatal care is practiced in the U.S. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a clinical report in which Tully’s work is cited as promising for improving infant safety.
Tully’s learned about North Carolina State University’s industrial design programs from a graduate, prompting her to contact Tsai Lu Liu, Department Head of Graphic and Industrial Design and Sharon Joines, Professor of Industrial Design and Director of the Graduate Programs in Industrial Design at NC State.

"that’s what they do – design medical devices and other products to fulfill unmet needs"

“We had initial discussions, and that’s what they do – design medical devices and other products to fulfill unmet needs,” Tully said. “The whole point of this is to improve the early postpartum experience, so we’ve been very careful and very thorough about not introducing any unintended risks. We engaged with NC State by presenting the research, discussing clinical needs, challenges and regulations, and provided a list of things we’d like to see. Their role was to make prototype design a reality.”

For Joines’ graduate industrial design students, the project was an opportunity to create something that could have a significant impact for families. The semester-long course for 10 graduate students was funded by the NC TraCS award.

“There hasn’t been much change in the design of bassinets in years, and Kristin had design ideas she felt would accomplish certain objectives,” Joines said. “Kristin’s respect for industrial design and the design process supported the studio philosophy that there are many different ways to achieve certain objectives. Her goal was to get this idea out of her head and into the market, so that it would solve the problem for the patients.”

Trig Innovations, a marketing and industrial design firm based in Chapel Hill, was brought in as a partner to refine the student projects with Tully into a manufacturer-ready design.

“We spent a lot of time working with Kristin, her team, and with the data that she had collected,” Joines said. “The students were able to observe staff interacting with a maternity bed and infant bassinet in the hospital. They brought the existing bassinet model and a hospital bed over from Chapel Hill into the studio so the students could work with the equipment on campus — to iteratively evaluate their prototype designs.”

New mothers, fathers, and healthcare providers were also invited to the NC State design studio so the students could ask questions and generate their own ideas about the project. After the first round of ideas, the students gave a presentation for Tully’s team to critique, leading to a second round of work for the students.

“The students were able to find out what things could move forward and what things to let go of,” Professor Joines said. “They were able to take all that feedback and create a second round of prototypes of their ideas so that they could see the difference between sketches and the computer renderings to having something people could interact with and get additional feedback.”

‘I want to accomplish that – and more.’

At the end of the semester, the graduate industrial design students presented to the UNC-Chapel Hill investigators, Tully’s business advisors from the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, Don Holzworth and Jan Davis, and the Trig designers.

“Dr. Tully was a great partner to work with,” Joines said. “She knew what was available in Europe, and she said, ‘I want to accomplish that – and more.’ The ‘and more’ was the big challenge.”

What lies ahead

With the prototype completed, Tully’s team is now preparing to obtain patient and healthcare provider feedback. Tully named the device the “Couplet Care BassinetTM” to emphasize that it is designed to serve the mother-baby dyads together. The team is working with the UNC Office of Commercialization and Economic Development to submit a patent application for the bassinet and Tully is focusing on obtaining funding for multi-site clinical trials and implementation support.

Tully said she expects that – after testing to federal standards and obtaining regulatory approval – the bassinet will be licensed and on the market by 2019. She’s already being contacted by U.S. and foreign hospitals who are interested in the bassinet.

Joines said the project provided real educational opportunities beyond just creating the physical design for the bassinet.

“I had many of the students comment on how much they appreciated this project, that it was meaningful, that it was real,” she said. “They felt very motivated to work on it because they could see the utility and the benefit of the project.”


Written by Phillip Ramati


North Carolina State University

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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