Most moms-to-be spend a lot of time thinking about childbirth. In my experience, it's typical to have specific labor and delivery preferences, or to be afraid of the process entirely. One big worry I had was that my baby was going to have a big head, resulting in a hard labor, vaginal tearing, an episiotomy, or worse, my baby getting stuck and requiring an emergency C-section. The good news is that medical technology has enabled doctors to find out if your baby is going to have a big head, and well before you deliver. And once you know, together with your doctor, you can plan for a safe delivery.
According to the Fetal Medicine Foundation, your baby having a larger than average head — also called macrocephaly — is actually pretty common, and most often not a sign of a serious problem. According to Healthline, in a majority of cases, having a big head is genetic or inherited, so if you or your baby's other parent has a big head, your baby is more likely to have one, too. As Neurologist Sumaira Nabi told Medscape, in less common cases, your baby having big head might be the sign of a medical or developmental condition, which is why your doctor will measure your baby's head diameter and circumference during your second trimester screening ultrasound, and may re-check it again during later ultrasounds.
It is important to know if your baby has a big head in order to monitor their health and development and, as previously mentioned, because it may impact labor and childbirth. One study published in the Swedish journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica showed that large fetal head circumference can increase your risk of labor complications, the necessity of an assisted delivery (with a vacuum or forceps), or having to have an emergency C-section. Another study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that having a baby with a big head was actually more likely to cause you to need a C-section than having a big baby in general.
While all of this may sound scary, the good news is there are signs that your baby might have a big head and ways for your doctor to diagnose macrocephaly, and other related conditions, before delivery.
According to the Fetal Medicine Foundation, your baby having a bigger than average head — also called macrocephaly — is actually pretty common, impacting one in 100 babies. You might be reassured to know that most cases of fetal macrocephaly are benign — meaning not big deal — and are just the way your baby looks and develops. According to the same site, if you want to know whether or not your baby will have a big head, you might want to look in the mirror or check out their other parent's head size. Because having a big head is an inherited trait, according to Healthline, if one or more of a baby's parents or relatives has a big heads, they might be more likely to have one, too.
While the thought of giving birth to a big-headed baby might be terrifying to moms-to-be the world over, having a big head actually might be a good thing. Researchers at Edinburgh University found that babies with big heads might actually be smarter and more likely to earn college degrees. Whoa.
As Neurologist Sumaira Nabi told Medscape, because having big head might be the sign of a medical or developmental condition, it's important to monitor a fetus' ongoing development during pregnancy. Advanced Women's Imaging explains that this is why your doctor will measure your baby's head diameter and circumference during your second trimester screening ultrasound. These measurements will be compared to other measurements of your baby's body, and used to determine your baby's approximate gestational age. The same site notes that just because your baby has a big head doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem.
If they have a larger-than-average measurement, your doctor may use ultrasound and other diagnostic tools to monitor their development and growth and re-check their measurements again before delivery. Unfortunately, one Swedish study found that having a baby with a big head can definitely impact childbirth, increasing your risk of labor complications, assisted delivery, and a C-section. So, don't be surprised if your doctor talks to you about these risks and your options for delivery prior to your due date, and especially if it looks like your baby's head might be on the bigger side.
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