Doctors use Pea Pod, which uses air displacement to measure the body composition of premature infants, as a tool to help treat babies.

Every year, about 450,000 babies are born premature in the U.S., according to the March of Dimes. The nonprofit says that the healthcare cost of premature birth is more than $26 million each year, but there’s no way to measure the emotional toll the experience takes on the baby’s family.

A medical device called Pea Pod can help get these babies home to their eagerly awaiting families. The device uses air displacement to measure the body composition of premature infants, according to Surrounded by the warmed Pea Pod, the newborn is placed in what looks like a small MRI machine. The device determines changes in pressure and can measure how much of the baby’s body weight is fat and how much is lean body mass. 

With this information in hand, the team in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can tailor the baby’s diet to achieve appropriate weight gain. If, once measured by the Pea Pod, the premature baby’s body fat percentage is close to that of a healthy term newborn, the care team can stay with its current course of supplements while monitoring the baby’s weight gain. The Pea Pod device, which was developed by a company called COSMED, can be used once a week to assess the baby’s weight gain.

“If weight gain is lagging but body content is within those norms, this might guide us to favor the use of one macronutrient like fat, protein or carbohydrate over another as we add calories to their diet,” Ellen Mack, a neonatal clinical nurse at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, told  

In order to be eligible for the medical device, which has been approved by the FDA, babies must weigh less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces, or be small at birth or receive most of their nutrition from IVs for more than two weeks.

According to COSMED's website, the device can accommodate most infant behaviors, such as crying and movement. The company also touts Pea Pod’s fast test time of only two minutes and says it provides “excellent test-to-test repeatability.”

Prematurity is the leading cause of death for American babies, according to the March of Dimes. Those who survive premature birth often experience health problems for life, including intellectual disabilities, chronic lung disease, cerebral palsy, hearing loss and blindness.

“[The Pea Pod is] helping us reduce the babies’ stay in the NICU and sending them home to their families, where they belong,” Dr. Charles Simmons, chair of Cedars-Sinai’s pediatrics department, told

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay