When Jennifer and her husband Tyler decided they were ready to start a family, everything seemed to fall into place easily. They wept tears of joy when the home pregnancy test revealed a positive symbol, and Jennifer got through her first trimester without much of the morning sickness that had bothered her friends. Seeing the baby’s heartbeat on the first ultrasound was a reassuring sign there really was a baby, even if Jennifer could not yet feel her child kicking.
But at the second ultrasound appointment, something seemed different. This time, the tech spent a lot of time clicking and taking measurements. The next day, Jennifer got a call from her OB, who said she had reviewed the images and had a concern about the structure of the baby’s heart. She referred Jennifer to a Maternal-Fetal Medicine doctor for follow up.
Jennifer had never heard of a Maternal-Fetal Medicine doctor… if she needed one, did that mean there was a serious problem? Her OB gently assured Jennifer there was no reason to panic… a number of her patients were seen by a Maternal-Fetal Medicine doctor, also known as an MFM doctor.
What is a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist?
A Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist is a doctor who has received special training in caring for women with high-risk pregnancies and women whose baby is likely to be born with a health problem. The Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist doesn’t take over the care of the mother-to-be, but instead becomes part of the care team, along with the obstetrician. While the obstetrician focuses on the health of the mother, the MFM doctor focuses on the health of both the mother and the fetus. The MFM doctor works with the mother’s doctors to co-manage care before, during and after a baby’s birth. Women who are referred to an MFM doctor include:
- Women who have a pre-existing health condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
- Women who had a complication with a previous pregnancy
- Women whose fetus may have a complication or birth defect, such as
– digestive tract or intestinal problems
– heart disease or heart rhythm disorders
– neurologic disorders
– orthopedic conditions
– urologic disorders
– kidney disorders
- Women who are carrying more than one fetus
Jennifer’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist arranged for fetal echocardiography that provided detailed images of the baby’s heart structure, function and rhythm, even though the baby still hadn’t been born. After confirming there was a problem, the MFM doctor continued to monitor Jennifer and worked with her on a plan for delivering the baby and arranging the baby’s follow up care. The MFM specialist was part of a network of specialists and was able to bring in a pediatric cardiologist who answered all of Jennifer and Tyler’s questions and educated them on what they were dealing with and what care their baby would need in the months to come. While immediate surgery was not needed in this case, having the specialists involved early ensured that if care was needed at the moment of birth, it would be arranged.
Thanks to the involvement of Jennifer’s MFM specialist and the pediatric cardiologist, what had started as scary and unexpected news, became manageable. While no expecting mother wants to hear that there could be a problem with their pregnancy or with their baby’s health, having a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist on the care team can help to avoid surprises and ensure that moms and delivery teams are prepared to give the baby the best possible start in life.
To learn more about Maternal-Fetal Medicine services at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, visit us online.