Family Matters

Would You Give Birth in an MRI Machine? A German Mom Did

It's not clear why a 24-year-old German woman agreed to give birth amid the deafening knocks and thuds of an MRI machine. But doctors were psyched to gain real-time insight into how babies are born.

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Because labor and delivery is an unpredictable thing, babies have been born in lots of unusual places. How about the boy delivered on a PATH commuter train to New York City, or the baby born in an airport bathroom (yuck) or on the side of a highway?

What those locales have in common is that they were, presumably, unintentional. Not so for the unnamed German woman who elected to labor in an MRI machine.

For the first time, researchers at Charité University Hospital in Berlin used MRI to look inside a woman’s body as her baby inches its way down the birth canal, according to a report in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The corresponding video merges time-lapsed images of the “active second stage of labor, when the mother starts performing expulsive efforts with the valsalva maneuver.” In other words, she’s pushing the baby out.

It’s not clear why the woman, who was 24 and a mother of two when the Nov. 2010 video was made, agreed to spend some of the most intense parts of her labor in an MRI machine. The video shows the mother’s final pushes, until just before her baby, a boy, was actually born. To spare his newborn ears, doctors flipped off the loud MRI machine as his head began to crown.

What is clear is why doctors would want a woman to hang out in an MRI machine while giving birth: aside from the really cool images, the scan allows them to better understand the physiology of birth. While X-rays can and have been taken before, during and after labor, the authors note that prenatal exposure to radiographs has been linked with an increased risk of childhood cancer. And ultrasounds can’t provide the same degree of detail as MRI, which is considered safe.

As for the mom, she was clearly thinking ahead about pain management. Because laboring in an MRI machine doesn’t seem too conducive to natural childbirth, the mom opted for an epidural. And the good news, had something gone wrong, is that the MRI suite and the delivery room were on the same floor.

MORE: Midwife Mania? More U.S. Babies than Ever Are Delivered by Midwives