A new kind of infra-red brain scanner will help to prevent brain damage in babies by showing if they are being starved of oxygen during birth.
The scanner, developed by doctors from University College London, shines infra-red light into the baby's brain while it is in the birth canal. The amount of light reflected indicates the amount of oxygen in the blood supply to the brain. If there is not enough, doctors can simply give more to the mother.
Dr John Wyatt, who is leading the University College research team, said: "Many hundreds of babies each year suffer permanent brain damage because of a shortage of oxygen and a poor blood supply to the brain during delivery.
"This new scanner, which uses infra-red light, has the potential to prevent many of these cases from occurring each year, although further trials will be necessary."
Dr Wyatt and his team have predicted that, if the device is used widely, the number of Caesarean operations would fall by almost half, because doctors would be able to act on accurate information rather than a hunch.
The machine was developed with a pounds 98,500 grant from the charity Action Research.
Although the cost of the device appears prohibitive at pounds 30,000 commercial backing would make it significantly cheaper.