Fetal cardiology scans can be performed from 13–14 weeks of gestation in specialist centres. However, in most cases the fetal cardiology scan is performed between 18 and 23 weeks.

It is similar to the routine scans you have while you are pregnant, although in this scan the fetal cardiologist concentrates on your baby’s heart. We use ultrasound to take pictures of the heart, which allows us to see how it is developing and how the blood flows around it. In many cases this confirms that the heart has developed normally.

Fetal heart scanning can detect most structural abnormalities of cardiac function. It can also detect disturbances in the rhythm of the heart. However, some abnormalities may not be seen, or only become evident after birth.

What we cannot diagnose before birth:

  • Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) – a fetal blood vessel, present in all babies before birth, that does not close properly and allows blood to mix between the aorta and pulmonary artery.
  • Atrial septal defect (ASD) – sometimes referred to as a "hole in the heart", this is when the wall between the atria (upper chambers of the heart) does not close completely. This is present in all babies before birth.

After the scan

We will explain the results of the scan to you as soon as it is over. If we find a problem we will explain all the options available to you and whether your baby is likely to need medical or surgical treatment after birth.

One baby in every 10 who is found to have a heart condition will have problems with other organs or with genes that are responsible for the development of these organs (a genetic problem). If we think this may be the case with your baby, we will offer advice and counselling and, if appropriate, refer you to a specialist obstetrician for further scans or tests such as amniocentesis.

If you would like a second opinion regarding the heart condition we can arrange this.

Ongoing care

In the case of a cardiac diagnosis, you will be offered follow-up cardiac scans so we can monitor your baby’s heart condition.

The fetal cardiology consultant and clinical nurse specialist will maintain contact with your local obstetrician, GP and midwife, to provide information on your ongoing care and delivery plans. They will also receive a copy of your scan report.

We will discuss with you the best place for you to deliver your baby. This could be at your local hospital or it may be a maternity unit closer to Royal Brompton Hospital so your baby can be transferred here soon after birth.

If your baby requires surgery after birth, our clinical nurse specialist can arrange for you to visit Royal Brompton Hospital, either on your own or to attend one of our antenatal group sessions, which are held once a month on a Saturday afternoon. At this visit, we will provide you with information about the facilities available to you and help you to become familiar with the ward / intensive care unit where your baby will be staying before and after surgery. 

We can arrange for you to meet a paediatric cardiac surgeon or other members of the fetal cardiology team for further advice. We can also put you in touch with other parents who have had a similar experience to yours or you may wish to access further support through the specialist charity, The Brompton Fountain.

When your baby is born

Not all babies will require treatment immediately after birth. Some babies may need to come to Royal Brompton Hospital for a heart scan before leaving the maternity unit to go home, while others may have an outpatient appointment with us at a later date so we can monitor their heart condition.

If your baby requires treatment at Royal Brompton Hospital immediately after birth, you will be able to come and stay as soon as you are discharged from the maternity unit. We will arrange for a community midwife to follow-up your postnatal care.

Once your baby is born, his / her care will be transferred from the fetal team to our paediatric cardiology team.

Our congenital heart disease (CHD) centre is one of the largest in the country. Clinical teams treat more than 10,000 patients with these diseases each year.