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Baby girl’s head allegedly ripped off during delivery in Brazil hospital

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A couple in Brazil were devastated when their baby daughter’s head was allegedly “ripped off” from her body at birth on May 1.

According to the New York Post, Ms Ranielly Coelho Santos was 28 weeks into her pregnancy when she was admitted to Hospital das Clinicas da UFMG in Belo Horizonte in late April due to high blood pressure.

She went into induced labour on May 1 and her husband, Mr Victor da Silva, witnessed the ensuing horror in the operating theatre.

He said the doctor, who was unnamed in media reports, put pressure on his wife’s belly, tried to remove the baby from the womb quickly, and “ripped off” her head in the process. Just moments before that, the father said his baby was moving her eyes and mouth.

Other botched deliveries of such nature have been reported elsewhere in the world. In 2014, a woman in Scotland who was just over 25 weeks pregnant suffered a similar ordeal, reported the BBC. Her son, who was in breech position, was decapitated during birth and a caesarean section had to be carried out to remove his head from the uterus.

In 2019, an unsupervised nurse at a community health centre in India allegedly ripped a breech baby’s body in two from the torso down, leaving the head inside the mother’s uterus, reported 9News. After the mother was transferred to a hospital, the doctors, who thought they were recovering just the placenta, were shocked to find the baby’s head.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, Dr Christopher Chong said he was not aware of such delivery mishaps in Singapore, although there were babies who sustained neck injuries at birth.

Premature babies, especially those born near 24 weeks of pregnancy, face higher risks as “their necks can be as fragile as cotton wool or jelly”, said the obstetrician and gynaecologist at Chris Chong Women and Urogynae Centre at Gleneagles Hospital.

The more premature the babies, the less well-formed the spinal cords and tissues near their necks, Dr Chong said.

Women with narrower pelvises, such as those who have suffered fractures and damage to their pelvic bones, may face higher risks too if there is “excessive and untrained pulling or tugging of the baby’s head or neck” by their obstetricians during labour, he added.

When forceps or vacuum extractor are used in the labour process, the risk of decapitation may also be higher when there is excessive pulling or yanking, said Dr Chong. Hence, a doctor’s experience and expertise matter.

In Singapore, preterm births are usually handled by senior doctors, said Dr Chong.

Dr Han How Chuan, an obstetrician and gynaecologist from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said decapitation can happen during breech deliveries, especially when the baby’s head is “too big - bigger than the maternal pelvic bone”.

The baby’s body is softer than its head, so its head may be struck after its body leaves the mother’s womb, Dr Han said.

Even the head of a normal-sized baby can get stuck if the baby’s legs emerge before the mother’s cervix is fully dilated, he added.

The recent Brazil case courted widespread attention after the heartbroken couple submitted a complaint to the police and vowed to seek justice.

They said they received an apology from the doctor. A social worker at the hospital also told them that the baby’s burial costs would be taken care of. However, the offer was reportedly valid only if the couple agreed to let the matter rest.

The couple’s lawyer told the press that the couple did not sign any waiver and had sent their baby’s remains to the Legal Medical Institute for further analysis.

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