Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH)


If a baby’s organs don’t develop correctly while they are in the uterus, they may be born with a condition that needs treatment. A congenital diaphragmatic hernia is one example.

Congenital means present at birth, and the diaphragm is the muscle just below the lungs that helps with breathing. It also separates the lungs and heart from the abdominal organs, such as the intestines, liver and stomach. A congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) develops when a baby’s diaphragm doesn’t form correctly, leaving an opening between the chest and abdomen. This opening can allow abdominal organs – most often the intestines – to move out of the abdomen and into the chest.

CDH can cause several complications:

  • Small lungs: Misplaced organs can push on the baby’s lungs, causing the lungs to be underdeveloped at birth. This can result in breathing problems, which can be life-threatening in severe cases.
  • Pulmonary hypertension: High blood pressure in the baby’s lungs (pulmonary hypertension) can disrupt blood flow through the lungs and reduce oxygen to the rest of the body.
  • Feeding problems
  • Developmental delays

Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) is usually found by ultrasound exams done during pregnancy.

If your baby has a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a fetal MRI may be used to better understand your child's problems so appropriate treatment can be planned.

Treating Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernias

Mercy takes a team approach to caring for babies with CDH. Together, our neonatologists and pediatric pulmonologists, cardiologists and surgeons develop a personalized treatment plans based on the severity of the condition and the baby’s overall health.

Mercy offers the most advanced treatments including:

  • Breathing assistance: We immediately place most newborns on a ventilator machine to help them breathe until they can have surgery. Babies stay on the ventilator for as long as necessary, until their lungs are strong enough to do the job.
  • Surgery: Our pediatric surgeons perform surgery soon after birth to gently move the abdominal organs out of the chest and back into their correct place, then close the opening in the diaphragm. After surgery, babies recover in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where they receive round-the-clock expert monitoring and nurturing care.

Fortunately, most children born with CDH will have no long-term problems. Mercy’s expert, compassionate specialists are dedicated to helping your baby recover from CDH and live a healthy life.

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