A New Era of Treatment for High-Risk Pregnancies

Mother holding newborn baby's foot.Having a baby is one of the most natural things in the world, but it’s not risk free. For some women and their unborn children, the risks can be especially great, with potential for the development of life-threatening complications.

Transforming their treatment and medical outlook is the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. The program has long been recognized as a leader in MFM, an obstetric subspecialty focusing on the diagnosis, treatment, and care of expectant mothers and their fetuses who may be at high risk before, during, and after pregnancy.

Many conditions can potentially put women at higher risk during pregnancy, including:

  • Pre term labor
  • Becoming pregnant after age 35
  • Multiple birth pregnancies (twins or triplets)
  • Family history of birth defects or genetic disorders
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid or kidney diseases, and pre-eclampsia

Working Together for Mother and Child

“Many MFM programs nationwide are available only at children’s hospitals. At UPMC, our comprehensive program of caring for mother and fetus is offered through Magee,” explains Stephen P. Emery, MD, director of the division’s Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center. “The maternal component is central to our mission; it’s a natural extension of our hospital’s historic focus on women’s health.”

The center’s MFM physicians are supported by a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals with expertise in high-risk pregnancies, including anesthesiologists, geneticists, radiologists, and bioethicists. “We work together and apply our collective knowledge to find solutions for each patient’s needs,” says Dr. Emery.

The goal is to give women and their families the information they need to make informed decisions about their pregnancies. The center then provides critical counseling and planning support, and state-of-the-art diagnostic, therapeutic, and surgical services.

Magee’s close partnership with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC also links newborns with congenital abnormalities to neonatologists, pediatric surgeons, and other specialists for ongoing care after birth.

“Thanks to the tremendous technological advancements in MFM in recent years, we get to know an unborn child inside and out during a high-risk pregnancy — from his or her chromosomal makeup to cardiac anatomy. We’re prepared to quickly address any health care needs immediately after birth — or even in utero if needed, ” says Dr. Emery. “Just as importantly, we’re also able to ensure that the mother’s continuing health needs are met.”

Typically, an obstetrician, gynecologist, or midwife will refer a woman to Magee’s MFM team for initial evaluation. However, women can contact Magee directly at 412-641-3382.

Advancing the Quality of Care Through Research

Despite major medical advancements in recent years, the causes of many fetal complications remain a mystery. That’s why research is so critical to the efforts of Magee’s Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center. “Through our research, the quality of our care extends far beyond what patients see,” says Hyagriv Simhan, MD, chief of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and an experienced investigator at the Magee-Women’s Research Institute (MWRI). “Magee is recognized for its pioneering research and medical advancements in MFM,” adds Dr. Simhan. The first research center devoted exclusively to the health concerns of women and infants, the institute’s current MFM research initiatives include preterm birth, genetics, placental function, and pre-eclampsia.

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