London – Thousands of risky emergency Caesareans could be avoided every year if women were given an extra ultrasound scan in late pregnancy, a study shows.
Mothers-to-be typically have the scans at eight to 14 weeks into pregnancy and then again between 18 and 21 weeks.
Experts say another ultrasound at 36 weeks would help spot breech babies – those which are the wrong way round in the womb.
They are usually delivered by emergency Caesarean, which carries a higher risk of bleeding for the mother.
Having an extra scan could give doctors time to try to turn the baby around, or allow a safer planned Caesarean.
The researchers, who looked at late ultrasounds given to almost 4 000 first-time mothers, found one in 40 detected a breech baby doctors would not have done. If used routinely across the UK, they say it could detect almost 15 000 breech babies a year.
Study co-author Dr Alexandros Moraitis, of the University of Cambridge, said: "These scans could be done cheaply during a routine midwife’s visit with a portable ultrasound.
"An additional cost of the scan would be cancelled out by the saving of detecting a breech baby and avoiding an emergency Caesarean.
"This could be a huge relief for the thousands of mothers who would know whether their baby was breech and have the option to try to turn it around and have a normal delivery. It could also save them the extreme stress of having an emergency Caesarean for an unexpected breech baby."
Doctors currently determine if a baby is upside down by feeling for its head and body through a woman’s abdomen.
But the study found this approach worked only 44 percent of the time, missing more than half of breech babies.
Of the 3 879 first-time English mothers given ultrasounds, 179 had breech babies, of which 96 had been undetected by doctors.
The study suggests that an additional ultrasound could save the lives of seven babies a year. Breech babies, which are born bottom-first instead of head-first, can become stuck in the birth canal.
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