Pregnancy and heart health

Maternal fetal medicine (MFM) is a specialty that deals with the counseling and care of women with complicated or high-risk pregnancies. Specialists provide regular prenatal care for women with high-risk pregnancies.

These doctors are obstetricians who often completed years of additional training.  

“We have international experts in preterm birth and diabetes in pregnancy and hypertension,” says Hyagriv Simhan, MD, MS, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at UPMC’s Magee-Womens Hospital. “As well as expertise in babies with complicated birth defects and a variety of other fetal issues.” 

Working with an MFM specialist during your pregnancy can help you feel confident that you and your baby are getting the best care possible. They:

  • Help manage the mother’s existing health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Care for women who develop complications during pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Do a complete ultrasound to evaluate your baby’s growth and development.
  • Perform tests to evaluate for genetic and chromosomal abnormalities.
  • Do surgery for complex pregnancy conditions, such as cervical incompetence, abnormal placentation, or significant maternal or fetal complications.
  • Diagnose and manage birth defects, heart problems, and blood disorders in a developing baby, including performing procedures if needed.
  • Monitor labor and complete the delivery.
  • Manage any of the mom’s health problems after pregnancy, such as excessive bleeding, infection, or high blood pressure.
  • Identify risks and provide recommendations for future pregnancies.

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What Is a High-Risk Pregnancy?

Many high-risk pregnancies are unavoidable and have nothing to do with anything you have done. A woman can be at increased risk for complications during pregnancy if she has cardiac or pulmonary problems, various rheumatologic disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, or is under age 17 or over age 35. She may also be at increased risk if she is carrying more than one baby, has a history of pregnancy-related complications such as multiple miscarriages or preterm births, or previously had a baby with complications.

A high-risk pregnancy does not automatically mean that something bad is going to happen to your baby. It simply means that because of a medical condition or other situation, you have a higher chance of pregnancy complications. Many high-risk pregnancies have no complications and end with happy and healthy moms and babies. A high-risk pregnancy specialist, or MFM doctor, can guide you through your pregnancy experience.

Visit Our OB Resource Guide from UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

What Can Women Do to Help Ensure a Healthy Pregnancy?

A healthy lifestyle can help reduce your pregnancy risks, even if the cause is unavoidable. To have a healthier pregnancy:

  • Maintain a healthy weight, which includes not being underweight.
  • Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise as per your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Get rest when you can.
  • Limit your caffeine intake.
  • Avoid smoking, drinking or illegal drugs.
  • Follow your recommended prenatal care.

What Are Maternal Fetal Medicine Diagnostic Tests?

MFM specialists perform diagnostic tests such as:

  • 3D ultrasound, one of the first steps in evaluation
  • Amniocentesis
  • Chorionic villus sampling
  • Fetal blood sampling
  • Fetal echocardiogram
  • Fetal MRI
  • Genetic counseling
  • Specialized ultrasound

Through the use of telemedicine like TeleMFM, pregnant people can receive expert consultation from home.  

“Using the TeleMFM technology, we can review records, talk face-to-face with a woman,” says Simhan. “We can even review ultrasound images remotely of her fetus without her actually traveling to see us. So, in this way, TeleMFM allows us to comprehensively evaluate a woman and her fetus and provide recommendations for her and her pregnancy moving forward.” 

What Do Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialists Do?

Depending on your situation, the MFM specialist may manage your care directly or consult with your team. A maternal fetal medicine specialist may:

  • Provide most of your prenatal care.
  • Work hand-in-hand with your obstetrician, family doctor, or midwife to co-manage your care.
  • Consult and work with neonatologists or other pediatric experts, as well as other medical or surgical subspecialists.

An MFM specialist will work closely with you and your regular health providers to see you safely through labor and delivery.

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.


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