One-Quarter of Vaginal Births Cause Tiny Brain Hemorrhages

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By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; 12:00 AM

TUESDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- In news that's sure to concern expectant mothers everywhere, researchers are reporting that as many as 26 percent of all babies born vaginally may experience bleeding in the brain caused by the birthing process.

But, the researchers, from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, were quick to point out that these findings don't mean that women should opt for Cesarean births, instead. These very small hemorrhages don't cause symptoms and are likely a normal part of delivering vaginally. And it's only because of high-tech imaging that they've now been discovered, the study authors explained.

"This study demonstrates that intracranial hemorrhages are much more common in newborns than expected," said one of the study's authors, Dr. Honor Wolfe, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "For parents and obstetricians, hearing that 26 percent of babies have bleeds in the head is frightening, and it may lead some to conclude that C-section is safer. But, we have no evidence that these bleeds are problems later in life, and women have delivered vaginally for centuries."

Plus, she noted, C-sections have risks as well, especially for the mother. "I don't think patients should change plans for delivery based on the findings in this study."

Results of the study appear in the February issue of the journalRadiology.

Each year, about 4 million babies are born in the United States, according to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. Approximately 2.9 million of those babies are delivered vaginally, with the remaining 1.1 million delivered by Cesarean section.

The new study, which included 88 newborns, was originally designed to study normal brain development in infants.

The infants' brains were imaged using the latest MRI technology, which provides very high resolution scans, according to another study author, Dr. Keith Smith, a professor of neuroradiology.

"We need to recognize that this happens commonly after birth and isn't indicating any abnormalities. It's not a cause for alarm. The fact that we're seeing so much higher an incidence is a reflection of the fact that this was done with very high resolution imaging," Smith said.

Still, the researchers were surprised to find that so many babies had evidence of minor bleeding in the brain.

"This finding was pretty unexpected," said Dr. John Gilmore, a study co-author, and a professor of psychiatry.

Gilmore said the researchers went back to see if the type of delivery -- whether forceps or vacuum extraction were used -- or the length of labor increased the risk of hemorrhage.


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