Fetal Surgery for Spina Bifida

In-utero (fetal) surgery requires a multidisciplinary team of experts and specialists.  The fetal surgery allows for the fetus to remain inside the mother's womb and is very much like a cesarean section.  An incision is made in the mother's abdomen and uterus, large enough for access to the spinal defect, to allow for the pediatric neurosurgeon to repair the spina bifida defect. After the surgery is complete, the mother's incision is closed up, allowing her to continue the pregnancy.

About Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a condition in which there is abnormal development of the back bones, spinal cord, surrounding nerves and the fluid-filled sac that surrounds the spinal cord. This neurological condition can cause a portion of the spinal cord and the surrounding structures to develop outside, instead of inside, the body. The defect can occur anywhere along the spine.

Myelomeningocele (MMC) is one of the most serious forms of spina bifida and affects approximately 1500 babies in the United States each year. MMC occurs when the spinal cord is exposed through an opening in the spine, leaving nerves exposed and vulnerable to injury from amniotic fluid. It can lead to hydrocephalus (a buildup of spinal fluid in the brain), problems with movement of the lower limbs, sensation impairment and bladder and bowel issues for the rest of the child’s life.

When the fetus is just 12 to 14 weeks, doctors can detect via an ultrasound the MMC malformation.

Traditionally, surgeons wait to repair the defect until after a baby is born. But, the landmark 2010 Management of Myelomeningocele Study (MOMS) found that babies who received the surgery prenatally were half as likely to need a ventricular shunt (a plastic tube placed inside the brain to reduce pressure), twice as likely to walk independently at two years of age and had better motor function than those who had surgery after birth.

How To Make An Appointment

To refer a patient to Ochsner Maternal Fetal Medicine specialists or for additional inquiries about fetal surgery, call 504-842-6290.

Treatment Approach

The Ochsner fetal surgery team follows a multidisciplinary approach for patient care and treatment.  On a fetal surgery a team of almost 20 physicians and nurses work together to complete the procedures. This comprehensive team includes physicians and nurses from the following disciplines:

Maternal Fetal Medicine

  • Maternal Fetal Medicine is a subspecialty of obstetrics in which specially trained physicians take care of high-risk pregnancies to ensure a healthy outcome for the mother and the baby.


  • The Ochsner Neurosurgery team provides a full range of adult and pediatric neurosurgical services.

Obstetrics and Gynecology

  • The Ochsner OB/GYN team treats a wide spectrum of issues impacting a women’s life – from pregnancy to menopause

Plastic Surgery

  • Our team offers a wealth of services and is committed to the total health needs of our patients, with the goal of providing the highest quality of care.


  • Ochsner Pediatrics specializes in comprehensive care for the whole child from birth through adolescence.

Pediatrics Cardiology

  • Ochsner’s pediatric cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons lead a highly-specialized team that provides comprehensive services for children and adults with congenital heart disease.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

  • Ochsner Medical Center has a Level III NICU – the highest level designation awarded by the State of Louisiana.


  • The Intensive Care Unit is committed to improving the health and well-being of its patients by providing specialized medical and nursing care.


  • The Anesthesiology Department works closely with the Women's Services Department to offer consultations concerning the comprehensive management of all anesthetic care for surgical, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, as well as pre-operative and post-operative care, including pain therapy.

Features & Patient Benefits

  • Specialized Facilities – Ochsner Medical Center is a full service hospital including emergency, comprehensive and specialty care.  As part of the Southeast Louisiana’s largest health system, Ochsner Medical Center has access to the most sophisticated expertise, resources, technology and services.
  • Level III NICU - Our team of board certified neonatologists directs the Level III NICU at Ochsner Medical Center. Partnering with our colleagues in obstetrics and perinatal medicine, Ochsner's Neonatologists consult on deliveries – knowing that the NICU and its staff are available should the need arise. Our neonatal nurse discharge coordinator assesses the needs of each patient and family soon after birth in order to facilitate the transition from hospital to go as smoothly as possible.
  • Intensive Care Unit - Our facility focuses on the best clinical practices and utilizes the most advanced technology while providing a warm and inviting atmosphere conducive to the well-being of our patients. Moreover, the unit is committed to patient-centered care, education and research, all of which enables it to serve patients and communities today and in the future.
  • For extended NICU hospitalizations, our adjoining Brent House Hotel offers an on-site location for parents to stay, where they can be close by their new baby.
  • Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialists - With one of the only 24/7 Maternal Fetal Specialist Team and Fetal Therapy Team in the region, our physicians are dedicated to improving all aspects of perinatal care. From the diagnosis and treatment of obstetrical problems to managing high-risk pregnancies, our Fetal Therapy Team cares for its patients through every stage of pregnancy.


Ochsner Medical Center is among only 36 hospitals in the country to be nationally ranked in nine or more medical specialties, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2014-2015 Best Hospitals rankings.

Healthgrades has named Ochsner Medical Center:

  • One of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Critical Care™ for 2 Years in a Row (2012-2013)
  • One of the Nation’s 100 Best for: Cardiac Care & Critical Care
  • A recipient of the Healthgrades Neurosciences Excellence Award™ in 2012

In the News

Read more on the fetal surgery for spina bifida performed at Ochsner Medical Center.

Read more and view videos on these news outlets about the surgery and the story of Kolby.