A fetal cardiology (echocardiogram) is a detailed ultrasound of the fetal heart. This ultrasound involves taking many short video clips of the fetal heart and related structures from different angles and evaluating the blood flow patterns in these structures. Fetal echocardiograms are completely safe, without any risk to you or your baby.
Sometimes, pregnant women are referred for a fetal echocardiogram because there is a risk factor that increases the chance of a congenital heart defect in their fetus, such as maternal diabetes, assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), or a family history of congenital heart defects. In other cases, a referral is made because the fetus’s heart isn’t clearly seen on the obstetrical anatomy scan, or there is a concern for a structural or rhythm problem of the heart.
The fetal echocardiogram takes about 30 minutes to an hour, but it can take longer if the baby is in a challenging position or if there are abnormal findings. Under optimal conditions, a fetal echocardiogram should reveal all major congenital heart defects and can be performed as early as 14 weeks’ gestation.