'Superknife' prevents injuries to babies during caesareans


Innovative tool could save babies from suffering serious cuts from regular scalpels

Childbirth experts in the UK are cautiously welcoming the arrival, early next year, of a revolutionary new ‘superknife’ that could reduce the number of injuries suffered by babies born by caesarean section.

Currently around 2% of the 176,000 infants delivered by caesarean section in England and Wales suffer an injury, usually when surgeons are cutting through the wall of the mother’s womb with a scalpel to get the baby out.

These injuries are usually to newborns’ heads and can cause permanent scarring which, rather than fading with age, can stretch over time. The cuts can also leave the youngsters at greater risk of contracting hospital superbugs such as MRSA.

To address the problem, US firm Brolex has created the C-Safe, an alternative to the traditional scalpel, with a blunt, upturned beak that can be used to puncture a hole in the womb wall. It also has a much smaller concealed blade protected by the tip of the device, so that babies are less likely to be injured during the surgery.

A regular scalpel is too sharp and uses too much knife to cut the uterus open when a baby is only a few millimetres below that surface

Already approved and on sale in the US, the device will be available on the UK market in early 2013.

Rachel Stone, spokeswoman for Brolex, said: “Babies born by emergency C-sections are more at risk from cuts than those born by planned caesareans. This is because, when a woman has been in labour for a long time, her womb lining becomes very thin. If her waters have also broken, there is no cushion to protect the baby when the incision is made.

“A regular scalpel is too sharp and uses too much knife to cut the uterus open when a baby is only a few millimetres below that surface.”

The disposable device, which will cost around £22, has received a cautious welcome from consultant, Gabrielle Downey, a member of the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. She said it would be most useful for junior doctors and in more complicated births.

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Eager to see the published results of the first trials in the US, she said that in most cases cuts were caused by more inexperienced surgeons who put too much pressure on the scalpel or cut too deeply. More experienced medics, she said, know when to start using their fingers instead of a scalpel to open the wound. This, she added, made the device much more useful for junior doctors and in births where it is hard for the surgeon to see what they are doing.