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HomeHealth & FitnessWhat Is Fetal Surgery? | POPSUGAR Health

What Is Fetal Surgery? | POPSUGAR Health


Even in the best circumstances, being pregnant can be nerve-racking for any expecting mother-to-be. Add in any degree of complications to the mother or baby, and there can be a lot of speculation and risk for a safe outcome. Fetal surgery is one of those complications that can cause grave concern. The relatively new procedure (it’s only been around for about 30 years) involves operating on a fetus while it’s still in utero — and it’s typically used to address a birth defect that could be life threatening, per Cleveland Clinic.

The intervention method was recently thrust into the spotlight after Kourtney Kardashian Barker opened up about her experience with fetal surgery during a May episode of “The Kardashians” — leaving many wondering what is fetal surgery exactly and how can it impact the birth and life of a child?

Ahead, PS investigates what happens during fetal surgery, types of fetal surgeries, and the potential risks to keep in mind.

What Is Fetal Surgery?

According to the Mayo Clinic, fetal surgery is “a procedure performed on an unborn baby (fetus) in the uterus to help improve the long-term outcome of children with specific birth defects.” Encouraged by a healthcare team, fetal surgery is suggested if the doctors believe the fetus will not make it to the delivery date or have significant hurdles (diseases or infections) post-birth. It can be performed as early as 16 weeks, but is ideal between weeks 22 and 26, per Cleveland Clinic.

What Conditions Does Fetal Surgery Treat?

Performed by maternal-fetal surgeons who typically have at least a decade of training post medical school, fetal surgery allows doctors to act on a range of different conditions early. Yale Medicine says among the most common conditions to treat is fetal anemia, occurring if the mother and baby have incompatible blood types, causing the red blood cell counts to go below normal. In the most severe instances, fetal anemia can cause heart failure. Two other common conditions include: spina bifida, when the spinal cord is underdeveloped; and congenital diaphragmatic hernia, when the diaphragm doesn’t close during development.

What Are the Different Types of Fetal Surgery?

Fetal surgery can be performed in a variety of different ways, per Cleveland Clinic.

  • Open surgery: During open surgery, a pregnant person will undergo an abdominal incision under general anesthesia to reach the uterus. Next, the surgeon will make another incision in the uterus to reach the fetus to operate. To finish, the uterus and abdomen are then closed.
  • Fetoscopic surgery: Fetoscopic surgery is the minimally invasive option in which the fetus is operated on through the small “keyhole” incisions in the uterus.
  • Surgery at delivery: Lastly, ex-utero intrapartum treatment is performed at delivery. The uterus is first opened and the pregnant person partially delivers the baby. The baby is then stabilized before the umbilical cord is cut and it’s separated from the placenta. This form of surgery is typically used on babies with a blocked airway or large tumor at birth.

Are There Any Side Effects to Fetal Surgery?

Trained surgeons will be able to mitigate side effects as best as possible, but it’s important to be aware that as the procedure is a surgery, there is risk of bleeding, scarring, blood loss and infection. The surgery could also trigger preterm labor or infection, per Cleveland Clinic. If undergoing fetal surgery, your doctor will alert you of any additional risks and necessary recovery journeys.

Natasha Marsh is a freelance writer who writes about fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Prior to freelancing, she held styling staff positions at The Wall Street Journal, Burberry, Cosmopolitan Magazine, British GQ, and Harpers Bazaar.


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