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3D scanning reveals for the first time how a child's head changes during birth

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By Erika Edwards

It is a question that has happened to many, if not all pregnant women before going through with a vaginal delivery ̵

1; how does something fit as a cantaloupe size fits through an opening of a lemon?

Of course, the lemon is the birth canal, which is known to expand in size to accommodate a child's head. And anyone who has seen a newborn fresh from a vaginal delivery knows that the baby's head shifts to something best described as a cone before returning to its normal form.

We've never seen how it really happens in real time – during work

A woman is born inside an MRI so that doctors can capture images of how her child's head changes during delivery. Court of Dr. Olivier Ami

Doctors at the University Hospital Center, in Clermont-Ferrand, France, captured MRI images in 3D by seven children as they made their way through the birth channel. This meant that seven brave women had to feed into an MRI machine.

The images show exactly how parts of the infant's skull overlap so that heads can be delivered vaginally. During this process, the brain is also compressed.

Doctors were surprised at how much the brain was affected. "When we showed the fetal head change, we discovered that we had underestimated a lot of brain compression during birth," Dr. Olivier Ami, who heads the new study.

It may sound medieval – and indeed, it is. Children have been born this way successfully since the beginning of humanity. And most of the time, infants can endure this type of trauma without any problems.

Dr. Olivier Ami, left, and his team reviewing MRI images of a baby during work. Their hope is to identify babies who will have problems during the vaginal birth before work begins. Court of Dr. Olivier Ami

But rarely do problems arise. And that's exactly what the French Obstetric team focused on. "Sometimes there are brain haemorrhages, and we don't know where they come from," Ami says.

"When that happens, the child may have long-term brain development problems that cerebral palsy," Dr. explained. Hany Aly, Chairman of the Neonatology Department at Cleveland Clinic Children.

The question is which children's heads will have problems shaping when they leave the uterus and enter the birth canal?

"We have no clues before delivery," Aly said. "We don't know who will have this problem. We don't know how to avoid it."

Doctors routinely monitor obesity heartbeats for signs of distress during the woman's work and perform emergency sections if needed. [19659006] But the French research group's goal is to develop software imaging that would predict which children are more susceptible to these complications before the work ever begins. Thereafter, doctors can schedule a C section in advance and avoid the problem altogether.

"This study is trying to target a very small number of children – one in a thousand or less who may have problems," Aly said.

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