This top invention can save a baby’s life

The baby’s wristband looks like a toy watch, but the device warns families when the baby is too cold. This U.S.-backed invention has already helped 10,000 newborns in India, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Togo and Ghana.

Warm babies mean healthier babies. The wristband, called Bempu, sounds an alarm and flashes an orange light if babies are too cold, alerting parents to warm them. Best of all, the Bempu is affordable — each unit costs $28. Often parents get the device free, since hospitals and other organizations often cover the expense.

Allowing families to prevent infant health problems at home is “what made me work on a low-cost solution,” said Bempu’s designer, Ratul Narain, a medical engineer who studied at Stanford University in California, in a recent interview with the Times of India.

The device, which entered production in 2016, earned a spot in Time magazine as one of the top innovations of the year.

Hypothermia, when a baby’s temperature dips below 36.5 degrees C, can cause weight loss. This leaves babies at serious risk. Up to 6 million newborns die each year, according to the 2017 report on child mortality from UNICEF, and often, hypothermia plays a significant role.

Baby wearing medical bracelet nestling to mother's chest (Bempu)
A mother provides “kangaroo care” for her infant, who wears a Bempu temperature-monitoring device. (Bempu)

When the wristband beeps, Bempu encourages parents to take two simple steps:

  1. Swaddle the baby in a layer of warm clothing. Use a cap to cover the head, mittens to cover the hands and socks to cover the feet.
  2. Use “kangaroo care” also known as skin-to-skin contact — where the newborn is placed directly against a caregiver’s chest or inside a parent’s shirt, like a kangaroo pouch, to warm the baby with body heat.

Bempu, based in Bengaluru, India, has big plans to bring the lifesaving device to the world. The company won a $2 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to scale up production.

Annika Gage, who works on international partnerships for Bempu in India, said the wristband can get everyone involved in protecting babies from hypothermia. In a remote health clinic in Papua New Guinea, one new baby’s grandfather pitched in. He monitored the bracelet and warmed the baby with kangaroo care if the alarm beeped, Gage said. “So to us, that was great — beyond what we originally set out to do.”