A mother in Berlin, Germany agreed to birth her baby inside an MRI (magnetic-resonance imaging) machine so that the images (first of their kind) could be used to offer new information on the human birth process, and potentially save lives in the future.
Although most MRI machines are tightly tube-shaped, researchers developed a unique 'open' scanner to allow the birthing mother room to move during labor/birth and to also provide room for attending midwives to reach mom and baby.
By utilizing powerful magnets, MRI machines create a strong magnetic field causing some atoms in the body to be detectable to radio waves. The MRI data is then used to create a cross-section of the body being scanned, which provides a detailed image of soft tissue and bone structure.
While MRI scans are considered safer than x-ray, as with ultrasound, there is no research that demonstrates without doubt that they are safe for use on pregnant mothers, babies inutero, or during birth. MRI scans are also disliked by some because of the loud buzzing noise that is made by the scanner as images are processed. The birthing mother in this case wore earmuffs to block the noise, and the machine was turned off after her waters broke (late in second stage) to prevent her baby's hearing from being impacted. The newborn's heartbeat was also monitored via MRI during the process.
Berlin's Charité Hospital team of researchers included lead gynecologist, Ernst Beinder, Christan Bamberg, radiologist Ulf Teichgraber and project manager Felix Guttler. Beinder announced that the birth proceeded normally and the MRI filmed all movements and processes that went on internally during the labor and birth process.
"We can now see all the details we previously could only study with probes," Beinder said. "These images are fascinating and proved yet again that every birth is a small miracle."
New Jersey Chairman of the Department of OB/GYN and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center, Manny Alvarez, says he finds this research fascinating. "For the first time we can clearly see the mechanics of a vaginal delivery. For years, obstetricians have relied on very crude methods of understanding complications like cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD), which translates when the baby fails to descend into the birth canal and there is a rest in cervical dilatation, which ultimately leads to a C-section." Alvarez adds that the rest of the 'tools' modern medicine obstetrics has used to try and understand birth (ultrasound, x-ray, manual exams) are limiting. "They never fully explain why some women are able to deliver 10-pound babies while others fail to deliver 7-pound babies."
The Berlin hospital had several expecting mothers volunteer to birth in the MRI machine, and as a result, plans for five additional filmed births have been made.
Currently, the c-section rate in Germany is 20% (in the U.S. 33% of babies are born via cesarean) and birth advocates would like to see this number reduced. It is estimated that only 3-5% of births truly need surgical intervention when the natural physiological process is not otherwise 'messed with.' (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) However, most sectioned women are told they 'needed' a cesarean to save their baby, or because their body was not working as it should. Researchers' hope is that live MRI images will provide further understanding in complications that may arrise, and help to improve birth outcome.
The Germany team report that mom and baby are both healthy and doing well after their record-making birth.
1) Born in the USA by Marsden Wagner
2) Pushed by Jennifer Block
3) The Caesarean by Michel Odent
4) Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
5) Get Me Out by Randi Hutter Epstein