Fetal Anomaly

An anomaly is something that is different from what is normal or expected. Fetal anomalies refer to unusual or unexpected conditions in a baby’s development during pregnancy. Fetal anomalies may also be known as congenital anomalies or birth defects.

Types of Fetal Anomalies

There are two general categories of fetal anomalies:

  • Structural anomalies affect the developing baby’s body parts, such as their heart, lungs, kidneys, limbs or facial features. Heart defects, missing toes, cleft lip and spina bifida are examples of structural birth defects.
  • Functional anomalies affect how a body part or body system works, such as the brain, nervous system, or sensory perception. Examples of functional birth defects include seizures, blindness, developmental disabilities, muscular dystrophy and Down syndrome.

Some fetal anomalies may affect both the baby’s structure and function.

Diagnosing Fetal Anomalies

We perform an ultrasound scan to check for fetal anomalies as part of your routine prenatal testing, usually between weeks 18 and 23 of your pregnancy. The scan enables us to view your baby’s development, including:

  • The formation of your baby's head, brain and facial features
  • Spinal development
  • Heart and lung structure and function
  • Structure of the abdominal wall and internal organs
  • Kidney formation and function
  • Formation of the limbs, hands and feet

While a fetal anomaly scan reveals most conditions, it is possible that some defects may not be visible until later in your pregnancy.

Treating Fetal Anomalies

In the unlikely event that your fetal anomaly scan indicates a potential concern, Mercy’s maternal and fetal medicine specialists will explain the findings and discuss the next steps with you.

Not all fetal anomalies require treatment; some, such as certain heart defects, may resolve on their own before birth. Others may need specialized care during delivery or soon after the baby is born. Rarely, treatment may be needed while the baby is still in the uterus.

Mercy's team of maternal-fetal medicine specialists, pediatric specialists, nurses and clinical educators are experts in caring for babies with medical issues. They will help you prepare for any special needs your baby may have, and offer support and guidance throughout your pregnancy and delivery.

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