Our littlest patients aren’t even born yet. Through our Fetal Heart Program, in collaboration with the Fetal Medicine Institute, we provide comprehensive, specialized care for the unborn child diagnosed with a heart condition.
Fetal Heart Program at Children’s: Why Choose Us
In our Fetal Heart Program, we treat the unborn child as a separate and individual patient. Features of our care include:
- Collaboration: We coordinate care for the unborn child across many different specialists, including maternal fetal medicine physicians and obstetricians with subspecialties in cardiology, cardiac surgery, genetics, and radiology.
- Supporting fetal development: While our specialty is the fetal heart, our goal is a healthy child. We monitor brain function and other aspects of fetal development to ensure the best possible outcomes for the child after birth. Learn more about our Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Outcome Program.
- Early detection: Through innovations such as fetal echocardiography and fetal magnetic resonance imaging, we can detect heart abnormalities as early as 12 weeks gestation. Early detection allows us to plan any necessary interventions as soon as possible. Learn more about cardiac imaging.
- Care for the whole family: Expectant mothers whose babies have been diagnosed with a heart condition may experience sadness and anxiety. These feelings can affect a mother's family as well as her pregnancy. Our team works with the entire family to provide emotional support to mothers and loved ones during this time.
Fetal Heart Team at Children’s
It takes a big team to care for a tiny heart. Our Fetal Heart Program, the preeminent provider of fetal cardiac services in the region, works together with Children’s Division of Fetal and Transitional Medicine. Your unborn child’s heart team may include many specialists, such as:
- Fetal cardiologists
- Fetal neurologists
- Pediatric radiologists
- Social workers
- Dedicated program coordinator
- Dedicated nurse coordinator
In addition, as we plan for your baby to begin life outside the womb, we work with many members of the pediatric heart team, including interventional cardiologists, cardiac anesthesiologists, neonatologists, and cardiac surgeons. Together, we create a plan so we are ready for all possibilities after your baby’s birth.
Fetal Heart Care: What to Expect Before and After Birth
Our team ensures continuity of care for your child. The treatment that begins during pregnancy transitions seamlessly to care during birth and infancy.
Treatment goals are to:
- Treat your unborn child as a separate and individual patient
- Understand how heart conditions may affect your child’s well-being during the pregnancy
- Determine if and when intervention is necessary, including medical management of fetal arrhythmias and treating heart failure
Fetal Heart Care During Pregnancy
If your obstetrician detects an abnormality during a routine ultrasound, he or she may refer you for further testing. At Children’s, we use the most advanced fetal diagnostic imaging to capture detailed images of your child’s heart, including:
- Fetal Echocardiography, an ultrasound of the heart, helps us diagnose and manage fetal heart conditions such as congenital heart disease, arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure. Because we use the most advanced equipment and techniques, it is possible to identify defects as early as 12 weeks gestation.
- Fetal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is also used in some potential diagnoses to help assess the heart and surrounding structures. An MRI can help to complement the information learned through ultrasound.
Additionally, some unborn babies may benefit from medical in utero interventions, which include drug management of potentially life-threatening fetal arrhythmias and treatment of heart failure.
Fetal Heart Care Through Birth and Infancy
Depending on the severity of your child’s condition, we will recommend that you deliver at your local hospital with support from our team, or in some situations, here at Children’s National. We are a leader in the field of delivery planning and assess delivery risk for babies with congenital heart disease. This helps us plan where you should deliver as well as the level of care your baby will need after birth. To ensure the best transition of care, Children’s Critical Care Delivery Program team and Children’s National Heart Institute collaborate to provide ongoing management for babies at the time of delivery and after they are born. Our care and support services include:
- Birth Planning: We work with you, your family, and medical professionals at your birth hospital to plan for your baby’s delivery and immediate after care. We ensure that the baby’s heart condition is managed effectively during delivery for the best outcome.
- Prenatal Support Services: The Fetal and Translational Medicine and Fetal Heart Program team members enjoy strong ties in the community, allowing good communication among local obstetricians, neonatologists, and pediatricians.
- Fetal Critical Care Delivery Program: This is a highly specialized program for situations when we anticipate the child will need immediate critical care at the time of birth. In these cases, the mother will deliver at Children’s National with the support of the obstetrical team and neonatal specialists.
- Cardiac Surgery: If we need to perform cardiac surgery soon after birth, we will arrange for you to deliver in a facility where our cardiologists can help stabilize the newborn before transport to our hospital.
- Continuing care at Children’s: Once your infant has been transported to our hospital, he or she continues to receive the highest level of care in the region’s only dedicated cardiac intensive care unit.
To make an appointment with our experienced fetal heart team, please call 202-476-4944.