Identifying heart defects before your baby is born
Early diagnosis of a congenital heart defect (a heart defect that is present at birth) can lead to better care and better health for your baby. It can also help you prepare for your baby’s care and needs.
After about 16 weeks of pregnancy, a complete evaluation can help identify possible heart defects, so that we can begin providing ongoing consultation. We also provide care coordination throughout pregnancy and follow-up care for babies with heart defects after they are born.
What is a fetal echo?
A fetal echo is an ultrasound, just like the one you get at your obstetrician's office. A fetal echo shows your baby's heart in detail. The heart's structure is best seen at 18 to 22 weeks into pregnancy.
What does a fetal echo do?
A fetal echo procedure will:
- Check your baby's heart structure, rhythm and function.
- Help make sure the heart problem does not get worse.
- Check to make sure your baby is growing and developing well.
If a fetal echo shows a serious heart defect, your baby may need more testing.
When should I see a pediatric cardiology team?
You may be referred to a pediatric cardiologist for a fetal echo if:
- An ultrasound or anatomy scan shows a possible defect or problem
- Your baby has a family history of heart problems in parents or siblings
- An abnormal heartbeat is heard from the womb
- A genetic or chromosomal abnormality is identified
- Another major organ system, such as kidneys or lungs, has problems
- The mother has medical conditions such as diabetes, phenylketonuria (PKU) or a connective tissue disease such as lupus
- The mother has been exposed to viruses, certain medicines, drugs or alcohol
What if my baby has a heart defect?
If testing shows that your baby has a heart defect:
- We will work with the perinatologist (high risk obstetrician) and develop a follow-up schedule to monitor your baby.
- We will help you understand your baby's condition and needs so that you can make informed choices for your family and baby.
- Should your baby need surgery after delivery, we can prepare you ahead of time by connecting you with a surgeon and providing helpful resources.
Learning that your baby has a heart defect can be scary and difficult to comprehend. We have collaborated with other institutions and the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association to create a guided questions tool so that you know the right questions to ask your physician about your baby.