Fetal Heart Program

The fetal heart program at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital works closely with families whose children have been diagnosed with a heart defect before birth. Our team coordinates services from prenatal evaluation, initial diagnosis, and education, to delivery, cardiac surgery, and ongoing care. Our goal is to provide a smooth transition from pregnancy to newborn care.

As part of Iowa’s only comprehensive congenital heart disease program, our team provides specialized care for both mother and baby during pregnancy and after delivery. Once a heart defect is diagnosed, pediatric heart doctors, pediatric heart surgeons, and University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics obstetricians work together to plan the best delivery and care options for you and your baby.

Fetal Echocardiograms

A fetal echocardiogram is a special test performed during the pregnancy to look at the position, size, structure, function, and rhythm of an unborn baby’s heart. This test can lead to early diagnosis of congenital heart disease. Research shows that early detection of fetal congenital heart disease improves outcomes for your baby due to immediate access to medical and surgical care (if needed) after birth.

Fetal echocardiograms are recommended if any of the following indicators are found:

  • Family history of congenital heart disease
  • Abnormal general fetal ultrasound suggesting heart disease or rhythm abnormality
  • Other birth defect(s)
  • Increased nuchal translucency
  • Abnormal maternal serum screening
  • Maternal diseases such as diabetes, phenylketonuria (PKU), lupus, or Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Certain maternal medications

Learn more about high-risk obstetrics.

Congenital heart defect indicator: Nuchal translucency

Nuchal Translucency is the fluid in the area behind the neck of all babies when they are in the womb. This size of this fluid is called nuchal translucency (NT). The reason why some babies have more fluid behind their neck than others is not known. What we do know is:

A baby in the mother’s womb that has normal chromosomes, but more fluid behind the neck, has a higher chance for congenital heart disease.

The more abnormal the NT measurement is, the higher the risk for a major congenital heart defect.

Nuchal Translucency Image

Patient Stories

  • Parent blog: Whitney and Zacharia Goodsell

    Zane Goodsell photo "At my 12-week ultrasound my local doctors discovered our unborn son had fetal tachycardia, an abnormal increase in heart rate. Our son’s fetal tachycardia is very uncommon."—Mother, Whitney Goodsell Read more

Locations and Contact

  • UI Stead Family Children's Hospital
    2801 Pappajohn Pavilion
    200 Hawkins Drive
    Iowa City, Iowa 52242
    In House Directions: Elevator I, Level 2
    • Monday through Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    • 1-319-356-3537