Fetal Surgery

Receiving a diagnosis of a fetal condition is an emotional experience. Banner Health’s team of experts is here to support and guide you through time-sensitive decisions by providing thorough, compassionate care to you and your baby. Our experienced maternal and fetal care specialists can further offer a complete range of diagnostic tests and treatment options if needed. 

At select locations, Banner Health offers 24/7 Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) specialists. MFM specialists are experts in high-risk pregnancies. They have advanced training to care for women with unexpected problems during pregnancy, and to provide fetal care to unborn babies such as monitoring, treatment and surgery.

What Is Fetal Surgery?

Unborn babies diagnosed with birth defects or other fetal conditions may require fetal surgery. This type of procedure is performed on the fetus in utero (while still in the mother’s uterus). Often, defects worsen as a baby develops, which is why early intervention before birth is important. 

Babies who have fetal surgery often require special care after delivery. Banner Health’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is staffed and fully equipped to manage the delicate care your newborn needs.

Risks of Fetal Surgery

Fetal surgery is complex and challenging. Banner Health’s experienced team provides expert, comprehensive care for both mother and unborn baby. As with any surgery, there are risks with fetal surgery including uterine rupture, fetal death, operative complications, early labor and potential failure to treat the birth defect.

Your doctor will explain all aspects of your procedure with you, but be sure to ask questions. It’s important you are informed and comfortable with your decision.

How Common Is Fetal Surgery?

According to the CDC, 1 in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect – approximately 120,000 babies each year. Fetal surgery is becoming an option for a growing number of these babies. Being able to intervene earlier and treat disabling or deadly birth defects offers new hope to families.

What Types of Fetal Surgery Does Banner Health Offer?

Banner Health’s Fetal Surgery Program offers the following procedures to ensure the best outcomes for both mom and baby:

  • Percutaneous umbilical cord sampling and fetal intrauterine transfusion: A diagnostic prenatal test, also known as cordocentesis, takes a sample of the baby's blood from the umbilical cord to detect certain genetic disorders, blood conditions and infections. This procedure also can be used to deliver blood and medication to the baby through the umbilical cord. Most often, this is used to test and treat anemia in the baby. If anemia is left untreated, the baby can develop hydrops, a life-threatening condition. This procedure has been used successfully to treat fetal anemia for decades.
  • Twin-to-twin transfusion and cord ablation: Twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) is a rare prenatal condition that can occur when identical twins share a placenta. Abnormal blood vessel connections in the placenta cause uneven blood flow between the babies. Fetal surgery is sometimes necessary to save one or both babies.
  • Fetal shunt placement: This procedure drains extra fluid in the baby’s body, usually in the bladder or chest. 
  • Spina bifida: Spina bifida is a birth defect that happens when the neural tube (cells in the spine and spinal cord) don't close completely. This can cause physical and mental issues. Spinal cord damage gets worse as the baby develops. Prenatal repair helps prevent further damage, and babies generally have better long-term results and improved mobility, than postnatal repair. This type of surgery can be risky to the mother and makes increases the likelihood the baby is born early.