Human Evolution

, 8:167 | Cite as

Adjustment of the fetal head and adult pelvis in modern humans

  • M. M. Abitbol


In nonhuman anthropoids, the anteroposterior (AP) diameters of the fetus are greater than the transverse (TR) diameters and the AP diameters of the pelvic planes are greater than the TR diameters: during labor, therefore, the fetus moves through the birth canal without changing position or orientation. In modern humans, the fetal head at term is encephalized and the fetal chest is flattened. The maternal pelvic inlet is flattened in an AP direction, the sacral promontory and the ischial spines are prominent. As a result, AP<TR at the inlet, but AP>TR at the midpelvis and outlet. In addition, the birth canal presents a marked sacral curvature in the AP direction. The human fetus successfully negotiates the birth canal because the three crucial fetal adaptations: (1) spheroidicity of the presenting part of the fetal head, which allows it to “roll” in the pelvis; (2) mobility of the head and chest in all directions; and (3) a capacity for cranial molding, which adapts fetal head dimensions to pelvic dimensions. The result is that the human fetal head and chest can perform multiple rotational movements in order to always present the greatest fetal diameters to the greatest pelvic diameters. Monkeys show a limited degree of encephalization and suffer from narrow TR pelvic diameters without any possibility of fetal adaptations as shown by humans. Apes also show some encephalization but, because of wider TR diameters in the pelvis, they achieve an easy delivery with no need of fetal adaptations.

Key words

Pelvic diameters Fetal head mobility and molding Dystocia 


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Copyright information

© International Institute for the Study of Man 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. M. Abitbol
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyUniversity Hospital State University of New York at Stony BrookStony BrookUSA

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