Researchers at the National Institutes of Health; Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Benioff Children's Hospital at the University of California, San Francisco; Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville; and the George Washington University Biostatistics Center in Washington said the fetal surgery reduces the need to shunt fluid away from the brain and also increases the chances a child will be able to walk without crutches or other aids.
However, the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also found the infants with prenatal surgery were more likely to be born preterm and thus be at higher risk for breathing difficulties. Mothers also were at greater risk for uterine dehiscence -- a thinning or tearing at the incision in the uterus.
"In spite of an increased risk for preterm birth, children who underwent surgery while in the uterus did much better, on balance, than those who had surgery after birth," Dr. Alan E. Guttmacher of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said in a statement.
"However, caution is advised. Because the surgery is highly specialized, it is best undertaken in facilities with staff having experience in the procedure."