Baby in the Womb Amazing Anatomy Models

Dr. Sunil Deepak, 09 November 2019

The science museum of Bologna (Italy) has an amazing collection of anatomy models created around mid-1700s, and used for teaching to the medical students and obstetricians. I especially love the part of this museum that presents the models of babies in their mothers' wombs. If you ever visit Bologna and you are interested in human anatomy, do not forget to visit this Palazzo Poggi museum located in the university area.

Baby in the womb anatomical models - Images by S. Deepak

This photo-essay presents some of the anatomical models from The Palazzo Poggi Science Museum of Bologna university and explains how babies grow in mother's womb and their possible complications.

Origins of anatomy models in Bologna

Bologna University is one of the oldest university in Europe and the world. Its origin was linked to the Catholic church. In 1758 Pope Benedict XIV asked the university of Bologna to establish a school for teaching obstetrics in Palazzo Poggi, that hosted the Bologna university at that time. Dr Giovanni Antonio Galli (1708-1782) was the first professor of obstetrics (Science of child birth) at this school. Most of the anatomy models displayed in Palazzo Poggi were created during the second half of 1700s by anatomy artists like Anna Morandi Manzolini, Giovanni Manzolini, Ercole Lelli and Clemente Susini. The models are made mainly in two kinds of materials - cold painted terracotta and wax.

Let us start this virtual tour with a terracotta representation of Prof. Galli teaching to obstetricians. It shows both a pregnant woman as well as an anatomical model used for teaching. However, in reality only models were used for teaching and actual people were not brought in the theory classes.

Baby in the womb anatomical models - Images by S. Deepak

When I had studied medicine in Delhi (India), we did not have any such models. Though I had studied human anatomy and obstetrics, most of our learnings were through looking at few diagrams and imagining the human body. Today, the 3D computer-based models are common and are a wonderful learning tool.

Basics of Human Anatomy Related to Child Birth

After fertilisation, the human ovum formed by combination of mother's egg and father's sperm, fixes itself to the inner wall of the mother's womb (uterus). This point of contact between the baby and the mother's womb develops as placenta. A cord leading from the placenta connects to umbilicus of the growing baby and brings oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the baby. When the time for child-birth comes, baby should come out with his head first and after the baby is out, the placenta should separate from the womb-wall and come out.

There can be many variations in this process, though most variations are harmless. For example, sometimes an ovum can sub-divide and form 2 identitcal twin babies, or there can be two ovums at the same time, which results in 2 non-identical twins. Another variation can be that the position of placenta can vary inside the womb, as shown in the next picture.

Baby in the womb anatomical models - Images by S. Deepak

Most child-births are fairly straight-forward affairs, and women are known to have delivered even alone. However some times there can be complications. Thus regular check-ups during the pregnancy and the presence of a trained obstetrician or a trained traditional birth attendant is important during the child-birth. The next picture shows some variations in the position of the umbilical cord around the baby in the mother's womb.

Baby in the womb anatomical models - Images by S. Deepak

However, some complications can be problematic. For example, sometimes, during the child birth, the baby may come out feet first or butt first. Another complication can be that the umbilical cord grows around baby's neck, creating difficulties during child birth. Some times placenta can be near the womb-opening, so that when child birth starts, it gets torn and starts bleeding. Today, through the ultra-sound test, we can find out many of these complications early in the pregnancy and take measures to ensure that mother and bay do not suffer any harm.

With this basic introduction, let us now look at the anatomy models of Palazzo Poggi Museum.

Obstetrics models of Palazzo Poggi

The next picture shows a set of models explaining when the baby is born feet-first and how in this case, the midwife has to be careful to ensure that the umbilical cord does not get wrapped around baby's neck.

Baby in the womb anatomical models - Images by S. Deepak

The next picture shows the different steps of the most common way of child-birth in which head comes out first. During the pregnancy, baby can move in different positions, head up or down or on the side. When the time for delivery comes, then the head goes down in the birth canal and comes out first.

Baby in the womb anatomical models - Images by S. Deepak

The picture below shows how the baby and the placenta are inter-connected and both are covered by a thin membrane, which holds the amniotic fluid. During the child birth, this membrane breaks causing the liquid to come out (often called breaking of waters).

Baby in the womb anatomical models - Images by S. Deepak

The next images shows twin babies inside the womb, each of them with their separate membrane, placenta and umbilical cord.

Baby in the womb anatomical models - Images by S. Deepak

Conclusions

Every time I visit the anatomy museum of Palazzo Poggi, I wish that we had access to such models when we were studying medicine. Even if you are not a doctor, I think that such models are interesting because they help us to understand our bodies better.

Some countries in Africa and South Asia, including India, continue to have high mortality rates for the mothers and the new born babies. Urban areas in India have highly privatised health services with extremely high rates of Caesarean sections. On the other hand, services in rural areas and for the urban poor are lacking or are of poor quality. If you are here because you or your wife are expecting a baby, make sure that the expecting mother gets proper rest, nutrition and goes for regular check-ups from a trained midwife or obstetrician in a health centre or a hospital. Finally best wishes for you and your baby.

I had written a similar article in my old blog. It was a great fun going back and looking at the pictures from Poggi Museum for preparing this post. Let me finish it with another picture of a model showing twin babies in the mother's womb, each within a separate membrane.

Baby in the womb anatomical models - Images by S. Deepak

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Dr Sunil Deepak
Schio (VI), Italy

Email: sunil.deepak(at)gmail.com