Mother of invention


Mother of invention

Engineer devises a tool to protect pregnant women and their babies.

Photo by Emma Tsui

Dolma Tsundu’s understanding of the dangers of childbearing stem from her own birth; her mother nearly lost her life delivering Tsundu, and continues to suffer from the impacts of a complicated pregnancy.

Wondering how she could help protect other parents, Tsundu decided to apply her skills as an engineering student to improving maternal healthcare. The need for innovation is urgent. The World Health Organization estimates that every two minutes, a woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth complications, and a stillbirth occurs every 16 seconds. Even in high-income countries, up to 60 per cent of maternal deaths and 30 per cent of stillbirths are preventable. And our healthcare system routinely fails some families more than others: Black and Indigenous women face hugely disproportionate risks of stillbirths and maternal mortality.

With support from entrepreneurship@UBC, Innovation UBC, and the UBC Faculty of Medicine, Tsundu founded Flutter Care, a digital health company whose app is now used in over 50 countries. It offers an easy way to track fetal movements, such as “rolls,” “kicks,” and “flutters.” The goal? To identify patterns – strong indicators of pregnancy health – so parents understand their unique baseline and notice any changes that should prompt them to seek help.

Flutter Care’s data and education help parents not only to recognize potential danger, but also to self-advocate if they sense something is wrong. Especially for families who face discrimination or who live with trauma from past complications, being able to back their observations with real evidence and data can be powerful and even life-saving, says Tsundu.

Tsundu has received numerous awards for her work, including a 2022 BC Business Women of the Year: Innovator Award. But she says the most meaningful recognition is the trust and encouragement her team receives from families who have faced pregnancy complications and whose collaboration shapes the design: “They transform very difficult experiences into meaningful action, so they can support other people.”

Tsundu’s investment in her community both informs and stretches beyond her mission as a technology innovator. As a co-founder of the Canadian Collaborative for Stillbirth Prevention, she advocates for a national action plan to prevent stillbirths and strengthen bereavement care. For over a decade, Tsundu has been coaching women with intellectual disabilities through the Special Olympics, and she is a certified doula. She attributes to these experiences a nuanced understanding of how disability, race, gender, and socio-economic status intersect to shape parents’ experiences. “Pregnancy is a time in people’s lives when they’re especially vulnerable,” Tsundu says. “All these different aspects of a person’s identity are intensified – so it’s really important to protect them.”