Medical Miracles in the Womb

Fetal Surgery

Closed-uterus fetal surgery

Closed-uterus fetal surgery, in which the baby remains in the womb while the defect is fixed, is usually performed around 28 weeks. It's most commonly used to relieve urinary tract blockages. When the blockage is severe, the bladder becomes swollen with urine, causing the fluid to back up and damage or destroy the kidneys. To correct the problem, a surgeon, guided by ultrasound, inserts a needle into the fetus's bladder. Through the needle, the surgeon puts in place a shunt that allows the bladder to drain continually until birth, when the blockage can be repaired.

Open fetal surgery

Open fetal surgery is a newer area of prenatal medicine, also performed at around 28 weeks. The surgeon makes a cesarean-like incision into the mother's abdomen and partially removes the fetus from the uterus to correct the defect.

Open surgeries have been performed to repair the following defects:

  • Severe cases of spina bifida, an exposed and unprotected spinal cord
  • Congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in the diaphragm which allows the abdominal organs to move up into the chest
  • Tumor of the lungs, fluid in the lungs, and large tumors along the spine

However, opening up the uterus mid-pregnancy poses risks for both mother and baby. Among other things, it often leads to premature labor and delivery and exposes the mother to the usual risks of surgery, like infection. For these reasons, researchers are developing new, safer techniques.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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