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How to Ensure Your Child’s Heart Stays Strong

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Congenital heart defects are one of the most common conditions among infants under the age of one. One of the causes of such a condition is a diabetic mother, or a mother contracting an infection, such as rubella, during pregnancy.
  • Preconception screening is of huge importance because it provides a health assessment for both the mother and father. Also, where any issues are identified, the doctor will be able to provide immediate treatment. This will, thereby, ensure that a child has the best chance of being born safe and healthy thereafter.

 

Congenital heart defects are one of the leading causes of death in newborns and infants under the age of one, across the globe. Issues related to congenital heart defects account for 1 in 3 disabilities affecting other bodily organs.

Doctors are able to diagnose some infants as suffering from cardiovascular irregularities prior to birth or immediately after birth. On the other hand, some infants experience heart problems that do not become apparent until they are older, or when the condition becomes too severe to treat with medication.

Studies have found that congenital heart defects are usually results from the mother contracting an infection during pregnancy, with rubella being particularly dangerous in this regard. In some instances, it is due to taking certain medications during the first 6-12 weeks of pregnancy. However, the true causes of congenital heart defects are not yet fully understood. In 50% of such cases, doctors can treat the condition with medication and care for the specific symptoms. But, in the remaining 50%, doctors may need to perform surgery for treatment.

Caring for your child’s heart during pregnancy

The heart is the first organ that develops. It begins to develop during the 4th week of a pregnancy and grows rapidly in the following 2 weeks. It is during these 6 weeks that parents may be able to watch their child’s beating heart in amazement during an ultrasound examination. However, this first 6-week period is also the time when the fetus is most vulnerable to contracting infections, such as rubella. Hence, parents must ensure that they provide the utmost care for their child’s heart at this stage. They can do so by eating healthily, maintaining personal hygiene, and avoiding cigarette smoking and certain forms of medication that could potentially damage the heart of the unborn child.

Those in the medical profession will begin referring to the fetus as an unborn child once a pregnancy has passed the 10-week mark, at which point the infant’s heart will start to take its final form. At this time, in addition to being able to see the infant’s body taking shape, the sound of the child’s heart can be heard using a Doppler sound wave stethoscope. A normal heart will beat at around 160 beats per minute at this stage which, when compared to the heartbeat of a fully grown adult, may seem rather fast. However, from the 12th week of a pregnancy until the 28th-38th week, the child’s heart beat will gradually slow down until its development is complete.

Risk factors for congenital heart defects

The risk factors for congenital heart defects of infants in the womb include diabetic mothers or the mother contracting a virus, such as rubella, while pregnant. Chromosomal abnormalities in the mother which result in arrhythmia for the unborn child can lead to an edema, developmental issues, and congenital heart defects. Having a family history of the condition also increases the risks.

An ultrasound assessment of the unborn infant’s heart cannot provide a comprehensive answer as to whether the infant has a cardiovascular abnormality. This is because some cases only become apparent after birth, or once the child has grown more.

Pregnant women should pay particular attention to their own health in the following ways. This plays a huge role in the development of the unborn child’s heart as well as in reducing the risk of a congenital heart defect:

  • Preconception screening of both mother and father. When you notice any health problems or congenital conditions, make a doctor’s appointment to receive consultation about medication. Some medications could have an effect on the pregnancy. Moreover, doctors can advise you on which vitamin supplements to take prior to conception. For instance, doctors will often prescribe folic acid during the period of 2-3 months prior to conception.
  • Register your pregnancy with a medical facility and strictly adhere to your doctor’s advice. Moreover, make sure to keep up with the appointments in order to monitor the pregnancy’s development.
  • Manage your weight, ensuring your weight gain is gradual. Avoid any excess weight gain as it could cause the unborn child to develop diabetes.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. This includes staying away from areas that contain cigarette smoke as these factors can have an adverse effect on the development of bodily organs.
  • Exercise regularly after consulting with your doctor or midwife.
  • Practice mental wellbeing to avoid anxiety and stress.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet consisting of the 5 main food groups in moderation. Also drink plenty of water and avoid foods that are high in fat and overly flavorful.

If you experience any irregularities such as high blood pressure or vaginal bleeding, seek medical attention immediately.

Advice on what to do if a heart defect is identified

As previously mentioned, some forms of heart defect only present themselves after birth. In cases where surgery is not required, doctors will provide care and medication to regulate the patient’s symptoms. This includes taking care of dental hygiene and ensuring the patient only partakes in light exercise or according to specific medical advice. In addition to this, children with a congenital heart defect should not be made to worry about their condition. This can stress them out. Also do not start a strenuous exercise regime. If you notice that the child turns blue due to a drop in oxygen levels, seek immediate medical attention for diagnosis. Doctors can analyze whether the use of medication has been futile, and if the child needs surgical treatment.

As the heart plays such a vital role for life, mothers should take special care of their health. This will ensure they are at full strength during their pregnancy, which will help to prevent a childhood heart defect. Both obstetricians and pediatricians also have a key part to play in maintaining the mother’s health. Nevertheless, if doctors identify a congenital heart defect at birth or beyond, parents need not feel too down or anxious. Instead they should try to develop an understanding of their child’s condition to ascertain whether it can be cured through treatment provided by a specialist pediatrician. Whatever you do, always remember this: “A child’s heart is kept strong by the strong hearts of both parents”.

 


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Panuruj Luevisadpaibul, M.D. Summary: Pediatrics Pediatric Cardiology