There are a small number of specialist foetal medicine units where experts can help mothers and their unborn babies. In these units, the heart and circulation of the foetus can be examined by ultrasound, in a procedure known as foetal echocardiography.
The advantage of these units is that when a cardiac malformation is associated with additional structural or chromosomal problems (as they often are) there are several different specialists available on the team to work together to provide the best care.
If surgery is necessary, an appointment with the cardiac surgeon in the cardiology centre is helpful to prepare parents for the perinatal period (the time just before and after the birth) and to discuss surgical issues. Specialist liaison nurses provide additional support for parents at this time, and good communication with the local obstetric unit and local paediatricians is essential.
Greater recognition and understanding of cardiac disease in the early stages of life should mean safer management before and at the time of birth leading to better results for heart babies. For example, treatments to open valves safely before birth are in development and fast heart rates can be treated using drugs.
As our knowledge of the development of babies during pregnancy improves, doctors will be able to offer better care.
Tiny Tickers is a charity aimed at improving our understanding of foetal heart problems. Its objectives are to raise awareness, promote research and support those affected by these problems. For more information, go to www.tinytickers.org.
Other organisations that can provide help and support include:
British Heart Foundation
- Heart HelpLine: 0300 330 3311
- Website: www.bhf.org.uk
Little Hearts Matter
- Tel: 0121 455 8982
- Website: www.lhm.org.uk
Grown Up Congenital Heart Patients Association
- Tel: 0800 854759
- Website: www.guch.org.uk