Fetal Echocardiogram: Why We Decided to Get One Done

Image adapted via Flickr/ jkavo
Image adapted via Flickr/ jkavo

When it comes to prenatal care, I take the doctor visits and prenatal tests very seriously. Having such a strong history of complicated pregnancies from very early on up until delivery day, my relationship with my doctor and staying on track with my check-ups is one way I can help feel proactive in doing what I can to ensure we get the most positive experience and a happy outcome. 

In my past pregnancies, I have been monitored closely for my baby's growth, my weight gain (which is always on the low side), and kidney issues for myself that pop up each pregnancy. I do the standard weight check, fundal heights, ultrasounds (plus extras), gestational diabetes sugar tests, and blood pressure at each visit. I find all of these routine testing to be very important prenatal tests — each time. 

There are some routine prenatal tests that are commonly offered to pregnant woman which I have always declined and they're usually the more invasive tests. I've never had an amniocentesis test done before because without having some of those risk factors for genetic conditions which could be revealed with the testing, we didn't think it was necessary — just a lot of stress and worry. There are a few more that are lumped into the first trimester screenings which we also have declined, too. Having already stressful pregnancies, I don't like to worry myself with a lot of extra testing to rule things out just so I know.

We waited a few weeks and went back and for the first time in my pregnancy experience, there were little things on the ultrasound results that raised a few red flags.

This pregnancy has been slightly different than my previous pregnancies. I had trouble getting pregnant, which was very new and left me even more filled with anxiety over potential loss right from the start. I had the worst experience with nausea and vomiting, like never before (which is still an issue now at 37 weeks pregnant) and there was just something about this pregnancy that felt different — I couldn't explain it.

Baby was consistently measuring small from the ultrasounds I had from 6 weeks to 14 weeks, and again when we went in for our 20 week anatomy ultrasound. This was new to me, as my babies have always measured larger, but I wasn't showing yet and his growth was about 2 weeks behind where he should have been. We waited a few weeks and went back – and for the first time in my pregnancy experience, there were little things on the ultrasound results that raised a few red flags. Nothing serious, but it was recommended that we get a more detailed ultrasound done, as well as some added testing.

Yes, hello stress that I was hoping to avoid; but at least these extra tests were not invasive and could help rule out some of those lingering questions.

One extra prenatal test that we had done for our baby was a fetal echocardiogram. Because of a few flags that were found in the 20 week anatomy scan, including an issue with the umbilical cord, a smaller baby, and a fetal kidney abnormality, our baby was at a higher risk of having a heart defect. Tied together with a family history (my older brother) of congenital heart defects, this led to us scheduling a fetal echocardiogram for our baby.

A fetal echocardiogram is just a more detailed ultrasound performed to check the baby's heart before he's born. The American Heart Association explains the process of getting a fetal echocardiogram done using an abdominal ultrasound:

“this is the most common form of ultrasound to evaluate the baby's heart. There is gel applied to the mother's abdomen, the ultrasound probe is gently placed on the mother's abdomen and pictures are taken. This test is not painful and causes no harm to the baby. The test takes an average of 45–120 minutes depending on the complexity of the baby's heart.”

This detailed ultrasound can help rule out or diagnose some of the more major congenital heart defects that can happen. Having more risk factors than we'd had in other pregnancies (the smaller baby, umbilical cord issue, and kidney abnormality) this time around we opted to have extra prenatal testing done.

Thankfully, after the test was performed, we met with the pediatric cardiologist and they weren't able to see any of the more major and serious issues with our baby's heart. It was such a relief to hear and know that, even with his higher risks and red flags, his heart was not going to cause any major issues when we was born.

Prenatal tests are amazing and it's incredible to see the type of technology that's available now to help ensure we have healthy children, 0r to diagnose issues before they're born, so we know what to expect. I don't suggest you get all the prenatal testing done just because it's offered — because hello, added and unnecessary stress — but for us, this fetal echocardiogram helped alleviate a lot of stress and unknowns. 

If there's a family history of congenital defects you may want to have a chat with your doctor about how that increases your baby's chances for some similar issues. If not before birth, then at the very least, be sure to insist your newborn receives a very simple, non-invasive pulse oximetry test before discharge from the hospital.

:: Did you get any extra prenatal testing done? Did you find it helped clear stress or make it worse? Share in the comments! ::

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Fetal Echocardiogram: Why We Decided to Get One Done

Devan McGuinness is the founder of the online resource Unspoken Grief, which is dedicated to breaking the silence of perinatal grief for those directly and indirectly affected by miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. Using her own experience of surviving 12 miscarriages, Devan has been actively supporting and encouraging others who are wading through the challenges associated with perinatal and neonatal loss. Winner of the 2012 Bloganthropy Award and named one of Babble's “25 bloggers wh ... More

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