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Learning About Esophageal Atresia and Tracheoesophageal Fistula in Newborns

What are esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula?

Some babies are born with an esophagus that doesn't connect to the stomach. The esophagus is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. If the tube doesn't reach the stomach, your baby's food stays in the tube. It can't be digested. This is called esophageal atresia (say "ee-sof-uh-JEE-ul uh-TREE-zhuh"). It's often called EA.

Next to the esophagus is the trachea, or windpipe. Your baby breathes through this tube. If there's an opening between the esophagus and the trachea, stomach juices and saliva may be breathed into the lungs. This can cause choking, breathing problems, or pneumonia. This is called tracheoesophageal fistula (say "TRAYK-ee-oh-uh-sof-uh-JEE-ul FIST-yoo-luh"). It's often called TEF.

EA and TEF often happen together. They are congenital conditions. This means your baby was born with them.

How are EA and TEF treated?

  • Your baby will need surgery to repair the esophagus and trachea. If your baby has both, the surgeries may be done together or at separate times.
    • For EA, the doctor will connect the two parts of the esophagus. This will complete the path between the mouth and the stomach. Sometimes the two parts are too far apart for the ends to meet. In these cases, the surgery may be delayed for up to 3 months while the esophagus grows longer. In the meantime, your baby may be fed through a thin, soft tube that goes into the stomach through the belly. Your baby may need more than one surgery to repair the esophagus.
    • For TEF, the doctor will close the opening between the esophagus and the trachea so your baby can breathe normally.
  • Your baby will be asleep during surgery.

What can you expect?

  • You may see tubes and wires attached to your baby. This can be scary to see. But these things help the doctor treat your baby. The tubes supply air, fluid, and medicines to your baby. The wires are attached to machines that help the doctor keep track of your baby's vital signs. These include temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate.
  • Your baby will be kept comfortable and warm.
  • The hospital staff will provide the nutrition your baby needs. The doctor may use an I.V. that goes through the belly button to do this.
  • It's hard to be apart from your baby, especially when you worry about their condition. Know that the hospital staff is well prepared to care for babies with this condition. They will do everything they can to help. If you need it, get support from friends and family. Ask the hospital staff about counselling and support.

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