What actually happens to a baby’s head during birth

Newborn head shape at birth

Ever wondered how ‘that’ is going to get out of ‘there’? Well, science has just lifted the lid on another fascinating birth phenomenon.

Experts have long known that a baby’s head transforms into something of a cone-shape during labour as it makes its way through the birth canal, but we’ve never been able to see how it happens in real time. Until now.

Seven women have given birth inside an MRI machine, so doctors could capture how their babies’ head shape changed during labour. The 3D images are nothing short of incredible.

What happens to a baby’s head during labour?

Head shape during birth

Some babies look other-worldly when they’re born, complete with cone-shaped heads. Photographer Kayla Reeder captured a series of compelling images of baby Graham’s misshapen head during and after birth.

“It’s not uncommon, I’ve seen several babies with ‘cone heads’ or more prominent moulding due to being in the birth canal longer than others,” Kayla explained to HuffPost.“Graham’s head was more dramatic immediately after his birth than others’ but it went down so quick that you wouldn’t even have noticed unless you saw the images.”

New MRI images, taken as part of a study by researchers at University Hospital Center in Clermont-Ferrand, France, sheds more light on exactly how much pressure a baby is under, as their tiny skulls overlap so they can fit out of a mother’s vagina.

“When we showed the fetal head changing shape, we discovered that we had underestimated a lot of the brain compression during birth,” study leader Dr Olivier Ami explained.

Baby's head during birth

The images show just how much compression a baby’s face, skull and brain endure during birth. And while most babies are able to cope with the trauma as nature intended, on rare occasions, there are birth complications.

“Sometimes there are brain hemorrhages, and we don’t know where (they) are coming from,” Dr Ami said. These can lead to long-term brain development issues, like cerebral palsy.

Baby's head during labour

The question now is which babies will have trouble with their skulls moulding as they travel through the birth canal. Once scientists figure this out, they may be able to avoid some birth brain injuries.

The goal of the researchers is to develop software imaging that predicts which babies are more in danger of these types of complications before labour even starts. A c-section could then be used to avoid the issue.

“We hope in the very near future, we will be able to counsel the women correctly, inform them, and choose the best delivery mode,” Ami told NBC News. “We would like to have more information to give women.”

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