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Woman Gives Birth While Getting an MRI

mri scanning, childbirth

First baby born in an MRI machine. More to come?

It’s a world first: German doctors have recorded a live, vaginal birth on an MRI machine specially built to accommodate a pregnant woman in labor.

The unidentified German woman who agreed to labor and deliver while technicians captured MRI images and her baby are doing fine, according to officials at the Berlin research hospital where the birth took place.

This MRI birth marks the high point of two years of work by a team of obstetricians, radiologists and engineers who built the magnetic resonance imaging scanner. MRI machines are usually a long narrow tube, but this specially designed one was open and had enough space for the mother, her big belly and, presumably midwives, nurses, and attending OBs.

The machine had previously captured a laboring woman and the movements her baby made during labor, but Tuesday’s birth was the first to take place inside the machine.

Researchers — and this very open-minded mom — went through the trouble of making a new kind of MRI so that they could better understand the physical mechanics of birth. Why are some women able to push out 10 pound babies, while others’ 7-pounders get stuck coming out?

MRIs capture a series of cross-sectional images of their subjects, using powerful magnets that make some of the body’s atoms detectable to radio waves. The images produced reveal in high detail the body’s internal organs, soft tissue and the emerging fetus. Researchers hope additional images will give them better information about why an increasing number of babies are born via c-section.

The researchers say the machine was designed to accommodate a woman giving birth, but I wonder if they only imagined women giving birth on their backs. A truly awesome machine would be able to capture a woman in any number of positions — on all fours, squatting, sitting upright but leaning back. Lots of birthing practitioners and moms believe lying on one’s back is the worst way to give birth and comparisons with more upright births would bring solid evidence with why that could be.

They might also come to understand the Gaskin maneuver, where mom simply goes from her back onto her hands and knees to dislodge a baby whose shoulders are stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bones.

I love a good home birth as much as anyone, but I’m fascinated with these images and can’t wait to find out what researchers learn. Though let’s hope this won’t be yet another test that gets piled on to a laboring mom.

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Image: Charite Hospital

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