The natural history of anencephaly

The natural history of anencephaly is described in a cohort of continuing pregnancies.


Noirin Russell, Keelin O'Donoghue

Journal Name
Prenatal Diagnosis
Journal Article
Fatal fetal anomaly, Termination of pregnancy for fetal anomalies
Full Citation

Obeidi N, Russell N, Higgins JR, O'Donoghue K. The natural history of anencephaly. Prenatal Diagnosis. 2010;30(4):357-60.

Link to Publication


Anencephaly is a severe life-limiting condition that may be diagnosed from 12 weeks’ gestation, in which the baby develops without a major portion of their skull and brain and which results in the death of the baby either before delivery or shortly after birth. This study looked at a group of 26 continuing pregnancies where anencephaly was diagnosed in pregnancy–in a setting and at a time where legal termination of pregnancy was not available–and examined the course of the pregnancy, labour and birth in each case. One-fourth of pregnancies were complicated by increased amniotic fluid volume and in one-fifth of births there was difficulty with the baby’s shoulders being stuck (shoulder dystocia). A minority of women laboured spontaneously before term, but most requested their labour to be induced around term. The babies were most likely to die after birth, with 23% dying in the womb before birth and 35% died during labour. Infant survival ranged from 10 minutes to 8 days, and 6 parents went on to donate their infant’s organs for transplantation. This study provides useful information for health professionals caring for women with a diagnosis of anencephaly, and for those who choose to continue the pregnancy.

Pregnancy Loss Research Group

Pregnancy Loss Research Group, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University College Cork, Fifth Floor, Cork University Maternity Hospital, Wilton, Cork, T12 YE02, Ireland,