Fetal MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging  (MRI) is a technique for imaging or making pictures of internal stru​ctures in the body. MRI helps doctors see more details of the inner body that could not be seen well with available x-ray or ultrasound​ (sonogram) equipment.

For example, while x-rays are good for looking at bones, x-rays are not good for looking at soft tissues within, or next to, other soft tissues, like a baby within its mother. For making clear pictures of the various solid internal parts of the body as well the bones and liquid parts, MRI can be excellent.

Since the 1990s, MRI has been used increasingly in pediatrics. Studies have since revealed no harmful effects. With that reassurance, MRI is now used to help answer questions of fetal anatomy or structure before birth when it will aid in making medical decisions or planning critical care.

Because of the cost of fetal MRI and the relatively short safety experience in pregnancy, it is not used when the information is not time critical (such as when it could be as usefully obtained after delivery) or will not potentially change the management of the pregnancy. The American College of Radiology has detailed guidelines for the use of MRI in pregnancy, and we follow and support these guidelines.

We also have equipment ideally suited for fetal studies because of the rapid speed at which the images are made. This is important since a fetus inside the mother doesn't hold still for long. In addition, our pediatric specialists, including pediatric neuroradiologists, are experts in interpreting images of babies and the developing fetuses.

Cynthia Rigsby, MD, is the head of body MRI. Delilah Burrowes, MD​, is the neuro MRI contact for fetal cases.