Specialist shares insights on fetal MRI and how it improves neonatal outcomes

A fetal MRI can be performed either in the second or third trimester. Picture: Pavel Danilyuk /Pexels

A fetal MRI can be performed either in the second or third trimester. Picture: Pavel Danilyuk /Pexels

Published Apr 16, 2024


Pregnancy can be a mix of excitement and worry, especially with so many unknowns that are beyond control.

When there's a health issue with an unborn baby, planning the delivery and care after birth can often be done early with the help of an MRI. But capturing and interpreting MRI images is complex and requires special expertise.

Dr Lauren Raubenheimer, who has mastered these skills in London under the tutelage of the renowned fetal and neonatal imaging expert, Prof. Mary Rutherford, is a leading figure in this field.

Recently, she joined SCP Radiology as a consulting radiologist, offering valuable insights into the world of fetal MRI and its significance for expectant parents and their medical teams.

"Discovering your unborn child has a health issue has a profound and potentially transformative impact. As a mother myself, I am deeply committed to my work. I strive to provide parents with the information they need as they face these challenging circumstances," she explained.

A fetal MRI can be performed either in the second or third trimester. Picture: Supplied

Dr Raubenheimer highlighted how this advanced imaging technique can make a difference for expecting parents.

She explained that with the help of an MRI, doctors can plan the best time and way for a baby to be born, and figure out what kind of care the baby will need right after birth.

"There's no greater relief for parents than to learn that their baby's health issue is minor and treatable, providing them some peace of mind," she said.

Dr Raubenheimer delved into the reasons and right times for recommending a fetal MRI, emphasizing its role in ensuring the baby's safety.

When do doctors decide an MRI is needed?

The journey often begins after a foetus medicine specialist spots something unusual during a routine ultrasound check. At this point, an MRI can confirm this finding and even uncover other issues that the ultrasound might have missed, deeply influencing the health prognosis for the baby.

A fetal MRI can be performed either in the second or third trimester.

She said: “My special interest is in developmental fetal brain abnormalities but I also perform MRIs for body abnormalities, including congenital diaphragmatic hernia, congenital lung lesions, spina bifida, kidney anomalies and fetal tumours”

Why not ultrasound?

In some cases, MRI scans prove to be more effective than traditional ultrasounds for expectant mothers.

This advanced imagery technology is especially beneficial for examining intricacies like the brain's folding, or when the skull obscures parts of the brain.

It's also more effective in situations where the amniotic fluid levels are low, this fluid acts as a cushion inside the amniotic sac or in cases where the expectant mother has a higher body mass index (BMI).

Achieving high-quality images during pregnancy hasn't always been easy due to fetal movements during scans. However, advancements in technology have overcome this hurdle.

"Thanks to today's stronger magnets and quicker scanning processes, we're now able to capture exceptionally clear images," explained Dr Raubenheimer.

When it comes to the safety of MRI scans, the well-being of both mother and foetus is the top priority. Current studies have found no significant negative effects on the developing foetus when the MRI is performed at a safe magnetic strength (1.5 T).

She stressed that MRIs did not involve ionizing radiation, and no intravenous contrast is used for fetal MRIs, ensuring the unborn child's safety.

"By adhering to strict guidelines, we effectively minimize any risk to the foetus," she stated, offering reassurance to soon-to-be parents about the procedure's safety.

It’s good news that most health insurance plans do cover fetal MRI tests. However, it's important to remember that, as with other MRI tests, you'll need to get pre-approval from your insurance provider first.

For the best results, it's recommended that patients get a referral from a fetal medicine specialist who has already performed a detailed ultrasound.

"Having the ultrasound results and knowing exactly how far along the pregnancy is are key to getting an accurate MRI reading," explained Dr Raubenheimer.