Fetal Cardiology

Diagnosing Congenital Heart Defects, Planning for Pregnancy and Delivery

For More Information 855-855-6484

Identifying heart problems before birth ensures your baby gets the most effective treatment as early as possible. Our pediatric heart specialists use the latest technology to diagnose congenital heart defects while your baby is still in the womb. We offer resources for your pregnancy and delivery, and we help you prepare for your baby’s treatment before and after birth.

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Diagnosing Congenital Heart Defects Before Birth

Congenital heart defects are problems with a baby’s heart structure. These can range from simple concerns that only need monitoring to more complex conditions that require pediatric heart surgery and ongoing care through adulthood.

If a problem with your baby’s heart is detected during a routine ultrasound scan, or if another medical concern is suspected, you will be referred to our fetal cardiology experts. Diagnosing congenital heart defects requires precise ultrasound evaluation, which is performed by pediatric cardiologists who are trained to recognize congenital heart defects as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy, and in some cases even earlier.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the region. Find one near you.

Tests

Our fetal heart experts use advanced tests to accurately diagnose your baby’s potential heart condition as soon as possible. These noninvasive tests require no radiation or contrast-dye injections and pose no health risks to you or your baby.

Fetal Echocardiogram

This is a more sophisticated version of the ultrasound imaging you normally get during pregnancy. It is performed and reviewed by medical experts specifically trained to evaluate the structure and function of a fetal heart.

Fetal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

A fetal MRI uses radio waves and a computer to create images of your baby’s heart structures without the need for X-rays or ionizing radiation.

Genetic Heart Testing

We may advise you to undergo genetic testing if you have a family history of congenital heart disease, or if your baby may have a genetic or chromosomal abnormality. Our genetic counselors walk you through your baby’s risk factors and screening options and help you decide whether to undergo one of our advanced screenings. If you are diagnosed with genetic heart disease, we connect you with the right doctors, support programs, and community resources.

Need a Second Opinion?

Please call 919-668-3126. Our nurse navigator will help make your arrangements.

Care During Pregnancy

Dedicated Nurse Navigator 
If a heart defect is found in your baby, your nurse navigator will guide you through next steps and connect you with the appropriate experts. In addition to answering your questions along the way, the nurse navigator will take care of some important tasks so that you don’t have to, including:

  • Obtaining your medical records, including imaging reports and other test results.
  • Helping schedule your appointments with pediatric cardiologists, pediatric heart surgeons, and others who may be involved in caring for you and your baby.
  • Helping set up nearby lodging during your baby’s admission, if needed.

Personalized Tours
Knowing what to expect during and after delivery can make the process feel less scary. Our nurse navigators offer virtual tours of the facilities you’re most likely to encounter, including the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit (PCICU), neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and others.

Advanced Prenatal Care and Monitoring
To monitor your baby’s development, you may be scheduled for regular fetal stress tests and more frequent appointments with your obstetrician. As you get closer to your delivery date, you may also see a pediatric cardiologist and perhaps a pediatric heart surgeon. We coordinate your care so that multiple specialists can review your test results and images prior to appointments.

Medications
You may be prescribed medications that will pass from your bloodstream to your baby’s. These medications are safe for both you and baby.

Delivering at Duke

If your baby is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect before birth, you will deliver at Duke Birthing Center at Duke University Hospital where you will have access to our obstetric and neonatal experts and the latest advances in pediatric care.

Duke Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center and Complex Care Facilities
The third floor of the new Duke Central Tower houses our Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center, including a state-of-the-art pediatric cardiac intensive care unit (PCICU) with 20 beds, and a step-down pediatric complex cardiac care unit with 17 beds. Both units are staffed by a diverse team with specific training to provide the highest level of pediatric heart care with experience and compassion.

Our Level IV NICU is equipped to treat babies with heart issues, as well as those born prematurely. The Level IV designation indicates we provide the highest level of care for critically ill infants. Depending on the severity of your baby’s condition, they may go directly to the PCICU or NICU after delivery. However, most of the time, your baby will be able to stay with you for a period of neonatal bonding before being transferred.

Neonatal Bonding Program
Duke is one of only a few places in the country with a cardiac neonatal bonding program. Even if your baby has a heart problem, there is a very good chance that your baby can still spend time with you after delivery, before being transferred to an intensive care unit. Studies performed at Duke have shown that this is safe for most babies, and we will try our best to ensure you have this important time together. In most cases, we can tell before birth whether this will be possible and will discuss it during your prenatal visits. 

A gold badge shows Duke has been nationally ranked in 10 pediatric specialties for 2023 to 2024
#2 in Nation and #1 in NC for Pediatric Cardiology and Heart Surgery

Duke Children’s is ranked the #2 pediatric cardiology program in the nation and the best in North Carolina by U.S. News & World Report.

This page was medically reviewed on 02/15/2022 by