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Fetal Shunting

Some unborn babies have lung or bladder problems that prevent their fluids from draining into the amniotic fluid. These blockages can be life-threatening.

Doctors at the Fetal Care Center are among a select few surgical experts in the St. Louis region performing a type of fetal surgery called shunting to treat unborn babies in the womb.

Fetal Shunting: What to Expect

Shunts drain fluids into the amniotic sac that surrounds and protects your unborn baby. Our doctors perform hundreds of fetal shunting procedures every year, so you can be confident your unborn baby is in highly capable hands.

Your doctor relies on ultrasound images while performing this fetal surgery. During this procedure your doctor:

  1. Makes a small incision in your abdomen
  2. Inserts a thin tube called a catheter through the incision, into the uterus and into your unborn baby’s bladder or lung
  3. Uses the catheter to insert one end of a shunt into the bladder or lung and the other end into the amniotic sac

Types of Fetal Shunting Surgeries

Our doctors excel at performing fetal shunt surgeries, including:

  • Vesicoamniotic shunting: During this procedure to treat bladder outlet obstruction, your doctor inserts a shunt into your unborn baby’s bladder. The shunt allows the bladder to drain, replenishing amniotic fluid and promoting lung development. Learn more about bladder outlet obstruction.
  • Thoracoamniotic shunting: During this procedure to treat congenital pulmonary airway malformation, your doctor inserts a shunt into your unborn baby’s lung. The shunt drains fluid from the lung into the amniotic sac. Learn more about congenital pulmonary airway malformation.

After Fetal Shunting Surgery

Any type of fetal surgery, such as shunting, increases the risk of early labor and delivery. You will stay at the Women & Infants Center until your doctor gives the okay to go home.

Throughout pregnancy, you undergo weekly ultrasounds to monitor the health of your unborn baby. We recommend that you deliver at a hospital equipped to care for a high-risk pregnancy, such as the Women & Infants Center. After delivery, your baby may receive advanced medical care in our Level IV newborn intensive care unit (NICU). Our focus is on keeping mom and baby together, which is why our NICU is connected to labor and delivery.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University fetal care specialist at the Women & Infants Center, call 855.925.0631.