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Fetal imaging and the importance of early diagnosis

Nobody who is expecting a baby ever expects a prenatal diagnosis. When an expectant mom goes from elated to extremely worried, fetal imaging specialists, who are part of the team in the Fetal Concerns Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, help provide the information parents desperately want and need.

Helping parents understand their baby’s condition is the first critical step. But now, state-of-the-art MRI imaging technology is making prenatal diagnosis more accurate and improving pre-delivery planning — including surgical planning and in utero surgery — to improve outcomes for the sickest babies.

What is fetal MRI?

Fetal MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is noninvasive diagnostic mapping of images of the fetus that can provide excellent detail even when the fetus is moving. It does not use radiation, and has no known negative side effects. A scan requires a mother to lie still on her side for 30-45 minutes, but she can eat and drink before the test, and use music, movies and other distraction techniques to relax.

Our team helps mom know what to expect before and during the scan, and uses position strategies to get the maximum amount of scan information in the minimum amount of time. Fetal imaging specialists at our Fetal Concerns Center, part of a multidisciplinary team that is unique in the state of Wisconsin, are board-certified and have special fetal and pediatric training.

These board-certified pediatric radiologists interpret MRI images and work with referring physicians to get families answers — allowing them to make decisions with their care team as soon as possible.

How fetal imaging changes the game

  • Preparing families: MRI technology can help doctors predict the condition babies will be born with, helping families be better prepared for challenges that will arise, and making decisions about their baby’s care.
  • Prenatal surgery: Some surgeries that used to be performed after birth can now be done in utero, giving the baby more time to develop normally. In utero surgeries include procedures for airway obstruction, spina bifida repair, and hernia repair.
  • Surgical planning: In a recent case, a baby with CPAM had a lung mass so large it had completely replaced one lung and was pushing the heart to the side and affecting the trachea. It would have impacted the baby’s ability to breathe after birth, but because of the detail provided by the MRI, the operating room was on standby and surgery was performed immediately.

A prenatal diagnosis is never expected, and is never easy. Our team is here to help with compassionate, individualized care for you and your baby.

The Fetal Concerns Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin offers compassionate, individualized care for mother and baby — from pregnancy to delivery and beyond. The Fetal Concerns Center is the only program of its type in Wisconsin and one of only a small number across the country.