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Extra routine ultrasound could have benefits for mother and baby, Norwich researchers say

PUBLISHED: 07:48 17 April 2019 | UPDATED: 07:48 17 April 2019

A study by the Universities of Cambridge and East Anglia has found that an additional routine ultrasound at 36 weeks could have benefits for mothers and babies. Picture: PA/Danny Lawson

A study by the Universities of Cambridge and East Anglia has found that an additional routine ultrasound at 36 weeks could have benefits for mothers and babies. Picture: PA/Danny Lawson

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An extra ultrasound in the final stages of pregnancy could benefit mothers and babies as well as saving money for health services, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

A new study shows an additional routine ultrasound at 36 weeks could be particularly helpful in identifying breech babies – when the baby's feet or buttocks emerge first at birth – to then develop plans with the mother for delivery, including an elective caesarian section.

The study, led by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with UEA, found that by routinely using ultrasound scanning undiagnosed breech presentations in labour could be avoided, lowering the risk of complications – including death – for both mother and baby.

The research team performed screening ultrasounds for 3,879 women in England who were 36 weeks into their first pregnancy.

A total of 179 women (4.6pc) were diagnosed with breech presentation by the scan – but in more than half of these cases (55pc) there was no prior suspicion that the baby was in breech.

Dr Ed Wilson, from UEA's health economics group in the Norwich Medical School, said: “We estimate that UK-wide routine scanning could prevent around 15,000 undiagnosed breech presentations, more than 4,000 emergency caesarean sections and between seven and eight baby deaths per year.

“We also looked into the costs of additional scans and found that if scans could be done for less than £12.90 each, it could be cost-saving to the NHS.

“If ultrasound screening could be provided at such a low cost, for example by making it a part of a standard midwife appointment, routinely offering ultrasound scans could well represent a good use of NHS resources.”

Gordon Smith, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Cambridge and chief investigator of the study, said: “We believe the study highlights an opportunity to identify women at increased risk of a complicated birth.

“It seems likely that screening for breech presentation near term could be introduced in a cost-effective manner and this should be considered by the NHS and other health systems.”

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