Fetal Surgery

What Is Fetal Surgery?

Fetal surgery is a complex intervention to treat a variety of life-threatening anomalies in babies before they are born. These prenatal operations can repair birth defects in utero, allowing the child to have better outcomes regarding their long-term effects depending on their condition.

Types of Fetal Surgery

Fetoscopic Repair of Spina Bifida

We are one of the only fetal centers in the country that offers a minimally invasive approach for spina bifida repair in utero. Babies who have the defect closed surgically before being born have been shown to have better long-term prognoses. Dr. Robin Bowman, co-director of fetal neurosurgery, explains what happens during the procedure, which happens before 26 weeks gestation.

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Open Fetal Surgery

One way this is done is through open fetal surgery. During this procedure the fetus is partially removed from the uterus to repair the defect. Since the mother’s abdomen is opened up, special devices are used to control bleeding, and fluids are continuously put into the uterus to maintain a healthy level of amniotic fluid throughout the operation. Once the repair is made, the uterus is closed. The mother must then remain on modified bed rest to increase her chance of carrying her baby full term. Myelomeningocele (MMC), or spina bifida, is one condition that can benefit from this procedure. 

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EXIT Procedure

A different fetal surgery procedure, which is used later in pregnancies for babies who may face higher risks if surgery is done after birth, is Ex-utero intrapartum therapy (EXIT). After an incision is made in the mother’s abdomen, the baby’s condition is treated in utero. Surgeons complete the delivery process and remove the baby from the womb, similar to a caesarean section. The type of surgery a mother and her unborn baby can undergo depends on the diagnosis and severity of the defect.

Fetal Surgery at The Chicago Institute for Fetal Health

The practice of fetal surgery is still unknown to many medical professionals and hospitals around the world. Certain resources and a skilled care team must be obtained in order to handle cases of this caliber or else the mother and her baby can be put at risk.

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The Chicago Institute for Fetal Health, one of only a few comprehensive fetal centers in the country, is able to offer pre-birth counseling and care, as well as corrective fetal intervention if needed for a variety of complex conditions, including both twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) and spina bifida (myelomeningocele – MMC). In fact, they are the first fetal center in Illinois to perform MMC repair in utero.

Fetal Expertise

The Chicago Institute for Fetal Health is a multi-disciplinary team made up of specialists from several of our U.S.News & World Report-ranked divisions and members of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine faculty.

Drawing upon the extensive expertise of faculty from fetal and neonatal cardiology, fetal surgery, maternal-fetal medicine, and more than 20 other adult and pediatric medical and surgical subspecialties, the most appropriate group of specialty clinicians will be assembled to provide your individualized care. In most cases, this will include the same clinicians who will be available to assist with your care and the care of your baby after birth.

Our physicians are passionate about pioneering advancements and improvements in the diagnosis, treatment and care of complex fetal conditions and anomalies, and we do more research and receive more funding for pediatric research than any other center in the Midwest.

Fetal Conditions We Treat

Our team is dedicated to providing comprehensive innovative fetal and maternal care that is at the forefront of fetal medicine. Through the use of cutting-edge diagnostics and advanced fetal interventions, we are able to offer care for the full spectrum of fetal  conditions and are often able to provide new hope to mothers and families.

Some of the conditions our team treats include:

  • Abdominal wall defects
  • Amniotic band syndrome
  • Bladder outlet obstruction (BOO)
  • Congenital airway obstruction
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Congenital pulmonary airway malformation (CPAM/CCAM)
  • Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH)
  • Esophageal or intestinal atresias
  • Fetal chylothorax
  • Fetal lymphatic malformations
  • Fetal teratomas and other masses or tumors
  • Lower urinary tract obstruction (LUTO)
  • Myelomeningocele (MMC), or open spina bifida
  • Selective growth restriction in a twin pregnancy
  • Twin-reversed arterial perfusion (TRAP) sequence
  • Twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS)

Visit an expanded list of conditions we treat.

Contact Us

Our fetal health services are available by caregiver referral or self-referral by calling 1.866.338.2524 (1.866.FETAL24) or by e-mailing fetalhealth@luriechildrens.org.

Our multidisciplinary team is here to empower you and your family to understand your baby’s diagnosis and to provide corrective intervention, if needed. In addition, we will discuss what to expect after birth and provide the specialized follow-up care for all babies, regardless of their condition or where they are born.