What patients and families need to know
We begin caring for your baby before she or he is even born. Prenatal (during pregnancy) diagnosis helps us gather as much information as possible about your unborn baby. This allows us to create a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan to improve the long-term outcome of your child.
Our fetal medicine experts in the Children’s National Health System will be involved in your baby’s care during your pregnancy, as well as the newborn period and beyond. Learn about our high-risk prenatal services, genetic and prenatal counseling and fetal imaging program below.
About Prenatal Care
Hearing that your unborn baby may have a medical condition may leave you feeling anxious and overwhelmed. We are here to provide the services you and your baby require during your pregnancy. You can feel confident that you and your baby are in expert hands.
Features of our prenatal care include:
- Expertise in fetal diagnosis. Our fetal medicine team has many years of experience using advanced imaging technology to diagnose conditions in unborn babies. We obtain detailed images of your baby so we can make an accurate diagnosis and develop the optimal treatment plan.
- Care for babies in utero. In some cases, we can even begin your baby’s treatment during the pregnancy after a diagnosis has been made. Our goal is to do everything we can to increase your baby’s chances for a positive long-term outcome.
- Preparation for delivery and postnatal care. During the pregnancy, we create a personalized care plan for your delivery and the newborn period. We want you and your family to feel prepared and reassured for the next steps. Learn more about delivery planning and neonatal care.
- Support for the entire family. Once we diagnose or suspect a medical condition, we are available to you and your family during your entire pregnancy, the newborn period and beyond. We provide the resources, support and reassurance you need to make the best possible decisions for you and your family.
High-Risk Prenatal Services
If your physician suspects an abnormality in your unborn baby, she or he may refer you to our fetal medicine team. We work with your referring doctor and family to minimize stress and prepare your family for the next steps. Our services include:
- Managing high-risk pregnancies
- Offering genetic and prenatal counseling
- Providing state-of-the art fetal imaging, including advanced fetal brain imaging
- Managing fetal heart arrhythmias (heart rhythm disorders) in our fetal heart program
- Creating treatment plans that prevent complications in high-risk babies.
Genetic and Prenatal Counseling
We offer the full spectrum of prenatal testing and counseling. With the largest clinical Rare Disease Institute for genetics and metabolism in the United States right here at Children's National, our genetic counselors provide skilled care in a compassionate, respectful and family-centered environment. The prenatal counseling that we offer includes:
- Genetic counseling. Our genetic counselors review any relevant evaluations before your initial visit. This way, we are fully prepared to discuss the results with you. During your visit, we will gather an extensive family medical history to identify any risk factors. We also offer preconception counseling.
- Diagnostic testing. Our fetal medicine team analyzes prenatal test results and imaging scans. Based on our evaluation, we can determine if you need additional testing. We can also determine if your baby is at risk for certain genetic conditions and provide DNA testing.
- Genetic carrier screening. Certain populations are considered high-risk for genetic diseases. For example, those of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry may be at risk for Tay-Sachs, while those of African-American ancestry can be at risk for hemoglobinopathies such as sickle cell disease. We offer genetic counseling and carrier screening if you are in a high-risk population.
Fetal Imaging Program
Our Fetal Imaging Program is the backbone of our fetal program and is supported by our Developing Brain Research Laboratory, which offers unique quantitative tools for assessing fetal brain health. This program develops and uses advanced diagnostic technology, which allows us to obtain highly detailed images of your unborn baby. Annually, our team evaluates 600 ultrasounds and 500 fetal magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. Also, the Fetal Medicine Institute is one of a few centers in the world to have a fetal neuroradiology team. This team uses fetal MRI to make early diagnoses of fetal brain development problems.
Our Fetal Imaging Program uses this crucial imaging information to develop the best treatment plan, including preparing for delivery and performing interventions during the pregnancy, if necessary.
Imaging scans include:
- Fetal ultrasound. If a routine ultrasound identifies a potential medical condition, our fetal medicine specialists can perform a more detailed ultrasound to confirm or rule out the findings. We use the most advanced imaging technology to evaluate and diagnose any abnormality.
- Fetal MRI. We are one of the few centers to provide fetal MRI, a sophisticated imaging technique. Fetal MRI allows us to obtain very detailed images of the mother and baby. This helps our team confirm a diagnosis and plan treatment. As a patient of the Fetal Medicine Institute, you and your baby will be able to take advantage of our Fetal Brain Program, which allows our physicians to compare your baby’s fetal brain MRI results against healthy pregnancy values. Images are obtained during a study that lasts about an hour or less, without the use of sedation, and they are examined in real time by board-certified radiologists and neuroradiologists.
- Fetal echocardiography. We use this procedure to obtain images of your baby’s heart. We can detect heart defects by 18 weeks gestation (during the pregnancy), and see the major structures of the heart as early as 12 weeks. Fetal echo allows us to understand how the heart defect is affecting the unborn baby’s health and if we need to perform an intervention.
Learn more about these imaging tests and other services for unborn babies in our Fetal Heart Program.