TUESDAY, Nov. 29, 2011 (HealthDay News) --A new type of computer simulation can predict whether a pregnant woman will have a difficult childbirth, researchers report.
A woman's birth canal is curved and not much wider than a baby's head, which means the baby must travel through the canal in a specific sequence of movements, the French researchers explained. A problem in those movements, such as the head turned the wrong way at the wrong time, can result in difficult labor, they said.
They used the new "Predibirth" software to process MRIs from 24 pregnant women. This produced a 3-D reconstruction of both the pelvis and the fetus in each woman along with 72 possible trajectories of the baby's head through the birth canal.
The software program provided a score for each mother's likelihood of a normal birth, based on these simulations.
The 13 women who had normal deliveries had received highly favorable scores from the simulator, the three women who delivered by elective cesarean section were scored at high risk for difficult birth, the five women who delivered by emergency C-section had either mildly favorable, favorable or high-risk scores, and the three women who delivered with vacuum extraction had mildly favorable scores.
The study was slated for presentation Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, in Chicago.
"This goes beyond simple imaging. The software simulates the properties of potential deliveries," Dr. Olivier Ami, an obstetrician in the radiology department at Antoine Becleres Hospital, University of Paris-Sud, said in an RSNA news release.
Ami said the simulator results were "highly accurate" and appear to be a "significant improvement" over commonly used pelvimetry, in which the pelvis is measured to determine its adequacy for childbirth.
"A small pelvis may be able to deliver without problems, and a big pelvis might require mechanical help during childbirth," Ami said. "This uncertainty raises the rate of C-sections."
He noted that the risk of complications and death is six to seven times higher with an emergency C-section than a planned C-section.
"With this virtual childbirth software, the majority of C-sections could be planned rather than emergency, and difficult instrumental extractions might disappear in the near future," Ami said.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about Cesarean birth.