Did a Baby Really 'Kick Through' Her Mother's Uterus?

Pregnant Woman
(Image credit: Subbotina Anna/Shutterstock)

A pregnant woman in China experienced a life-threatening complication when her unborn baby seemingly "kicked" through her uterus, according to news reports.

The woman, known by the pseudonym "Zhang," was 35 weeks pregnant when she went to the emergency room because of extreme stomach pain, according to the New York Post.

When doctors at Peking University Shenzhen Hospital performed an ultrasound, they saw that the woman had a uterine rupture, a tear in the uterus that can cause the baby to protrude into the abdomen. In this case, the baby's legs were in the abdominal cavity, and the baby's thighs were stuck in the uterine wall, the Post reported.

Uterine rupture is rare, occurring in just 0.07 percent of pregnancies, according to Medscape. The condition occurs most commonly in women who have had a previous cesarean section, and in these cases, the tear often occurs along the site of the old C-section scar. But in Zhang's case, she had undergone surgery to remove fibroids from her uterus before becoming pregnant, and this surgery can also leave scar tissue that increases the risk of uterine rupture.

But could the baby's kick really have ruptured the uterus?

Dr. Michael Cackovic, the obstetric director of the Maternal Cardiac Disease in Pregnancy Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said it's more likely that the uterus ruptured on its own and the baby's feet came through afterward. [9 Uncommon Conditions That Pregnancy May Bring]

If a woman has a weak spot in her uterus — for example, a scar from either a previous C-section or surgery to remove fibroids — that portion thins out as the uterus gets bigger during pregnancy, Cackovic said. In some women who have had repeat C-sections, the "uterus is so thin, you can see the baby through it," Cackovic told Live Science. This thinning out can cause the uterus to rupture on its own.

But there's still a small chance that a baby's kick could play a role in uterine rupture, Cackovic added.

"It's certainly possible that a kick could be the last impetus to get through that layer" of the uterus, Cackovic told Live Science.

Uterine rupture can be life-threatening, potentially resulting in severe blood loss and organ failure in the mother and suffocation in the fetus. Generally, in these instances, doctors have just 10 to 40 minutes to deliver the baby before serious harm to the fetus becomes inevitable, according to Medscape.

Zhang's doctors acted quickly, delivering the baby in an operation that took less than 10 minutes. During the operation, doctors discovered a 2.8-inch (7 centimeters) tear in the uterus.

Both the mother and the baby are now doing well, the Post reported.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.