1. ITV Report

Unborn baby receives surgery inside womb six weeks before birth

Doctors in the UK have performed pre-birth spine surgery on an unborn fetus - an operation that has only been carried out three times previously in Britain.

Mother Bethan Simpson was only 24 weeks pregnant when doctors at University College Hospital in London performed on unborn Eloise, who had been diagnosed with spina bifida - a condition which means her spine hadn't formed properly.

Bethan was 24 weeks pregnant when her unborn baby had the operation. Credit: ITV News

The operation involves surgeons cutting open the mother's womb, being careful to only expose the unborn baby's lower back, which they repaired after administering a small dose of anaesthetic.

The pre-birth operation can be described as similar to a cesarean section, only instead of removing the baby from the womb, it goes back inside.

The visual result following the operation is very similar to a C-section. Credit: ITV News

"I felt her kicking me that evening after the surgery and she'd had as major surgery as I'd had and she was certainly doing a better job than I was," said Ms Simpson.

The operation isn't a guaranteed cure for baby Eloise's condition, but all the signs now are positive.

Ms Simpson can't wait to meet her daughter in person, something doctors have already done. Credit: ITV News

Ms Simpson added: "A few days after [the operation] we had scans done and you could see changes, you know, she had a head shaped like a lemon and it's now shaped like a head."

  • What is spina bifida?

According to the NHS spina bifida is: "Spina bifida is a type of neural tube defect. The neural tube is the structure that eventually develops into the baby's brain and spinal cord.

"In spina bifida, part of the neural tube doesn't develop or close properly, leading to defects in the spinal cord and bones of the spine (vertebrae).

"It's not known what causes spina bifida, but a lack of folic acid before and in the early stages of pregnancy is a significant risk factor."