Fetal Heart Conditions

If your baby has a fetal heart condition you will be seen by Packard Children’s Hospital’s fetal cardiologists, pediatric heart surgeons, high-risk obstetricians, and neonatologists.

How are fetal heart conditions diagnosed?

Many can be seen with a fetal echocardiogram (echo), which is a detailed ultrasound exam that takes images of the heart.

How does the Packard Children’s Hospital team typically get a baby immediate treatment after birth?

Many infants with a heart condition do not need immediate emergency care. Some may need medicine shortly after birth, and may need close monitoring and care in a NICU.

Rarely, fetuses with severe heart defects are expected to have life-threatening cardiovascular or respiratory problems immediately upon being disconnected from the placenta. For these cases, we ensure that there is immediate access to cardiac therapies (IMPACT) after the delivery. Learn more about how we care for infants with cardiac conditions in our Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit.

What happens during delivery of a baby with cardiac conditions?

In most cases, the type of delivery is not chosen because of a heart condition. Generally, if a vaginal delivery is safe for the mother, it is also safe for the baby. In the very rare cases when we need to deliver immediate surgical or other cardiac intervention, a cesarean delivery is done in a cardiac operating room, and the baby is then immediately transferred to an adjacent room for heart surgery or cardiac catheterization. Your baby will receive care at our Level IV NICU or Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit.

In what circumstances is a cesarean delivery performed?

  • Most infants with a heart condition are born by vaginal delivery. A cesarean is recommended in very specific conditions.
  • It may be done if there is a defect that could lead to life-threatening complications as soon as the baby detaches from the placenta.
  • It may be done if the fetus has a slow heart rate due to an arrhythmia, so that the obstetrical team cannot monitor the well-being of the baby during a vaginal delivery.
  • If it has been recommended that your baby needs to be delivered by cesarean, this is usually done at term if there is appropriate fetal growth.

What problems could a fetal heart condition cause after birth?

How a heart condition affects a baby varies widely and depends on how severe the problem is, when it is diagnosed, and how it is treated. The likelihood of a child having a developmental disability or delay when he or she is older increases with how complex the heart defect is.