Mother Births in MRI Machine: Live Birth Images Captured

By Danelle Frisbie © 2010
Photos © Charité Hospital

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



  1. That is REALLY REALLY neat!!!!

  2. That's ridiculously cool. I hope that using the technology is not harmful to baby, but dang - that is quite a view!!!

  3. OMG that poor baby - the eyes are spooky. Have you ever had an MRI? The noise is incredible - thumping, banging, irregular and *loud*. You also can't get diagnostic-quality pictures without holding completely still, so I would imaging that there would be a great deal of exposure in order to capture occasional clear images. Yikes.

  4. I saw this posted elsewhere and have been confused because I was told that a person had to be still for the images to work for an MRI- so when I first saw this I assumed the mother would have had to have had an epidural or other interventions- to keep her able to be 'still'. Were the images continuous or did the mother have to lay down for images to be processed?
    Can anyone tell where the mother's legs are in the photo? I was curious what position she was in.

    I DO think this could be very useful- especially to illustrate (to some drs) how differently things work in different positions and how women's bodies are different, but I'm also skeptical about how it could be used.
    I only also think that drs could glean much useful information by viewing the many homebirth and other youtube videos or teaming up with a good midwife.

    When my son had an MRI we were told that he had to be sedated because if he moved at all, we'd have to do it again because the images would be ruined. So I'd be angry that we were lied to.... and yes the machine is not only LOOOUUUDDD but FREEEEZZZIIINGGG- we were told they have to keep it quite cold so that the magnets don't overheat.

  5. Actually 1 in 3 babies are born by c-section in Germany, sadly. 15% would be wonderful!
    Apart from that... I hope there is no long-term damage from the MRI done to the baby... Pictures are cool, but I don't trust those machines unless I truly need them (aka suspected brain tumor or similar issues).

  6. I think that it is neat to have the pictures but I contend that c-section rate is so high because of medical "management". The more they understand our bodies, the more they can interrupt nature. I am not sure I like the knowledge they just gained for themselves.

  7. Is it just me or does it look like the baby is screaming? They supposedly turned it off when the amniotic fluid broke/was broken to protect the baby's hearing, but it's not like baby's can't hear just fine even with all fluid.

  8. For me, this ruins some of the magic about childbirth : (

  9. Hi, I read again and again in different blogs that the rate of cesareans in Germany is around 20%. But this is long gone. The rate took a steep step in Germany too and is now >30%. In the Bundesland Saarland even over 36% (,templateId=renderPrint.psml)!

    Sadly the midwifes, which are main carers during births, could not stop this rise. The german midwife centered birth system has not a better outcome in numbers of vaginal births, compared to the american system.
    Funny, all the pictures in the news articles show the orientation of the woman standing up or (more seldom)lying on her stomach.

    Is there anything good to be expected from this birth in a MRI? To be honest - I do not belive it. Hopefully I will get proven wrong.

  10. This seems like a really backwards way to lower the intervention rate. How does this help? Are we now going to put every woman inside this machine so we can be sure her pelvis isn't too small, the baby too big, placenta positioned correctly, cord too short, eyes too round, tongue too sticky-outty...? TRUST BIRTH

  11. Scientifically ("nerdily") speaking, the images are fascinating to me. However, no way in heck would I be the volunteer for that.

  12. Sarah Dorrance-MinchDecember 13, 2010 9:53 PM

    This is junk science at its silliest. I can only be glad about one thing: that it was financed by German taxpayers, rather than Americans, as I happen to live in America.

    How do I hate this? Let me count the ways.

    1) It assumes that there is such a thing as an inadequate pelvis, that cephalopelvic disproportion actually exists in healthy, ricketts-free women.

    2) It may usher in a new era of diagnostic pelvimetry, using expensive MRI technology rather than carcinogenic X-rays.

    3) The MRI area is cold and horribly noisy. The cold is uncomfortable, and the noise could possible damage a fetus' ears. We don't know, because we haven't done testing.

    4) The mother is on her back. Of course. The most gravity-fighting, pelvis-narrowing, painful, exhausting, vulnerable, fetus-endangering birthing position known. You want to find out why some women need c-sections due to dystocia late in labour? Fine. How about asking direct-entry midwives how they keep their rates of transport for c-section and other interventions low? How about getting the mother off her back and into something sensible, like a squat?




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