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Some babies' brains bleed after vaginal births

Researchers say small hemorrhages occur in a quarter of infants but cause no damage.

January 30, 2007|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

A quarter of babies born vaginally suffer small hemorrhages in their brains, perhaps from compression of the head during delivery, according to researchers who performed the first high resolution magnetic resonance imaging studies on healthy newborns.

The bleeding heals quickly, the team reported Monday in the online version of the journal Radiology, and most likely does not produce any long-term effects.

"After all, women have been delivering vaginally for millions of years," said Dr. Honor M. Wolfe of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, one of the report's authors.

No bleeding was observed during Caesarean deliveries, but the authors cautioned that this should not be taken as an argument to support C-sections.

"At this point, neither parents nor providers should change their plans for delivery," Wolfe said.

An earlier British study had found similar bleeding in 10% of newborns,but those studies were conducted somewhat longer after birth using a less-sensitive imager.

"The sharpness of the images is the main reason we are seeing more than other studies have found," said Dr. J. Keith Smith, a UNC radiologist who was part of the team.

The Carolina researchers studied 88 newborns an average of three weeks after birth. Seventeen of the 65 who underwent vaginal delivery were found to have suffered small hemorrhages in the brain, compared to none of the 23 who had C-sections.

"Neither the size of the baby or the baby's head, the length of the labor, nor the use of vacuum or forceps to assist the delivery caused the bleeds," said Dr. John H. Gilmore of UNC, the lead author.

"It's just the process of being born," he said. The skull has not yet become solid and the bone plates overlap with each other. Passage through the birth canal compresses the plates, tearing small blood vessels, he said. Most of the bleeds occurred in the lower, rear part of the brain.

But, Gilmore added, "there was no evidence clinically to indicate that anything had happened to the babies' brains."

The team will examine the babies again at ages 1 and 2 to look for any possible long-term effects.

Smith noted that radiologists increasingly use MRI to examine newborns, and are likely to observe similar hemorrhages.

"The reassuring thing is that this is a normal finding, and not an indication of pathology," Smith said.

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thomas.maugh@latimes.com

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