Posts Tagged ‘heart defect’

The life cycle of heart defects

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Couple with nurseCongenital heart defects (CHDs) are heart conditions that are present when a baby is born. CHDs affect nearly 1 in 100 births every year in the United States and are the most common type of birth defect. In fact, today, it is estimated that more than 2 million children and adults are living with a CHD in the U.S.

How do these defects happen?

Heart defects develop in the early weeks of pregnancy when the heart is forming, often before you know you’re pregnant. Some defects are diagnosed prenatally using ultrasound and some are identified after birth. We’re not sure what causes most congenital heart defects, but certain things like diabetes, lupus, rubella, obesity and phenylketonuria may play a role. Some women have heart defects because of changes in their chromosomes or genes. If you already have a child with a CHD, you may be more likely to have another child with a CHD.

Becoming pregnant with a CHD

When a woman with a CHD becomes an adult and decides to start a family, there may be concerns about how her heart defect may impact her pregnancy. Most women who have congenital heart disease do well and have healthy pregnancies.  However, because your heart has much more work to do during pregnancy, the extra stress on your heart may be a concern. Women with a CHD have a higher risk of certain pregnancy complications such premature birth.

Preconception counseling can help. Be sure to talk to your medical team, including your cardiologist before trying to conceive, about potential complications that may arise.

Learn what you need to know before and during pregnancy, and for labor and delivery.

Do you have a CHD? Did it impact your pregnancy? Tell us your story.

Have questions? Text or email us at

If my first baby has a congenital heart defect, what are the chances my second baby will have one, too?

Friday, September 30th, 2016

pregnant mom with childThis is a question we received through from a mom who is pregnant with her second baby. Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common types of birth defects and if you already have a child with a CHD, you may wonder if your second child will have the same defect. The answer, though, is not a simple “yes” or “no.”

We don’t know the cause of most congenital heart defects. For some babies, their heart defects were caused by changes in their chromosomes or genes (which are passed from parents to children). Researchers have found about 40 gene changes (also called mutations) that cause heart defects. About 30 in 100 babies (30 percent) with a heart defect also have a chromosomal condition or a genetic condition. So if you, your partner or one of your other children has a congenital heart defect, your baby may be more likely to have one, too.

But CHDs are also thought to be caused by a combination of genes and other factors, such as things in your environment, your diet, any medications you may be taking, and health conditions you may have. Conditions like diabetes, lupus, rubella and even obesity can play a role in causing CHDs.

So what is your risk?

The chance of having another child with a CHD depends on many factors. It is best to meet with your health care provider and a genetic counselor who can better assess your risk. A genetic counselor is a person who is trained to help you understand how genes, birth defects and other medical conditions run in families, and how they can affect your health and your baby’s health.


Heart to heart

Friday, February 14th, 2014

heartsTo all our volunteers and friends across the country, we offer our heartfelt thanks for your support.  Whether the loved ones in your family have healthy hearts or are struggling with a congenital heart defect, we are wishing you strength, good health and the joy of sharing love with others.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Birth defects

Friday, January 17th, 2014

In recognition of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, here are 10 things you need to know about birth defects from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.

1. Birth defects are common.
Birth defects affect 1 in 33 babies in the United States every year. For many babies born with a birth defect, there is no family history of the condition.

2. Birth defects are costly and can greatly affect the finances not only of the families involved, but of everyone.
In the United States, birth defects have accounted for over 139,000 hospital stays during a single year, resulting in $2.6 billion in hospital costs. Families and the government share the burden of these costs. Additional costs due to lost wages or occupational limitations can affect families as well.

3. Birth defects are critical conditions.
Birth defects can be very serious, even life-threatening.  About 1 in every 5 deaths of babies before their first birthday is caused by birth defects in the United States. Babies with birth defects who survive their first year of life can have lifelong challenges, such as problems with infections, physical movement, learning, and speech.

4. Women should take folic acid during their teens and throughout their lives to help prevent birth defects.
Because half of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned, all women who can become pregnant should get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, either by taking a vitamin each day or eating a healthy diet. Folic acid helps a baby’s brain and spine develop very early in the first month of pregnancy when a woman might not know she is pregnant.

5. Many birth defects are diagnosed after a baby leaves the hospital.
Many birth defects are not found immediately at birth, but most are found within the first year of life. A birth defect can affect how the body looks, how it works, or both. Some birth defects like cleft lip or spina bifida are easy to see. Others, like heart defects, are found using special tests, such as x-rays or echocardiography.

6. Birth defects can be diagnosed before birth.
Tests like an ultrasound and amniocentesis can detect some birth defects such as spina bifida, heart defects, or Down syndrome before a baby is born. Prenatal care and screening are important because early diagnosis allows families to make decisions and plan for the future.

7. Birth defects can be caused by many different things, not just genetics.
Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors. These factors include our genes, our behaviors, and things in the environment. For some birth defects, we know the cause. But for most, we don’t. Use of cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs; taking certain medicines; and exposure to chemicals and infectious diseases during pregnancy have been linked to birth defects. Researchers are studying the role of these factors, as well as genetics, as causes of birth defects.

8. Some birth defects can be prevented.
A woman can take some important steps before and during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects. She can take folic acid; have regular medical checkups; make sure medical conditions, such as diabetes, are under control; have tests for infectious diseases and get necessary vaccinations; and not use cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs.

9. There is no guaranteed safe amount of alcohol or safe time to drink during pregnancy.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning which can last a lifetime. There is no known safe amount, no safe time, and no safe type of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. FASDs are 100% preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol while pregnant.

10. An unborn child is not always protected from the outside world.
The placenta, which attaches a baby to the mother, is not a strong barrier. When a mother uses cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs, or is exposed to infectious diseases, her baby is exposed also. Healthy habits like taking folic acid daily and eating nutritious foods can help ensure that a child has the best chance to be born healthy.
For more information:

Written By: Cynthia A. Moore, M.D., Ph.D. Director
Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Alcohol during pregnancy and FASDs

Friday, September 7th, 2012

pregnant-bellySeptember 9 is International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) Awareness Day. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause FASDs, which include a wide range of physical and mental disabilities and lasting emotional and behavioral problems in a child.

When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, so does your baby. The same amount of alcohol that is in your blood is also in your baby’s blood. The alcohol in your blood quickly passes through the placenta and to your baby through the umbilical cord.

Although your body is able to manage alcohol in your blood, your baby’s little body isn’t. Your liver works hard to break down the alcohol in your blood. But your baby’s liver is too small to do the same and alcohol can hurt your baby’s development. That’s why alcohol is much more harmful to your baby than to you during pregnancy. No amount of alcohol (one glass of wine, a beer…) is proven safe to drink during pregnancy.

Alcohol can lead your baby to have serious health conditions, FASDs. The most serious of these is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Fetal alcohol syndrome can seriously harm your baby’s development, both mentally and physically.  Alcohol can also cause your baby to:
• Have birth defects (heart, brain and other organs)
• Vision or hearing problems
• Be born too soon (preterm)
• Be born at low birthweight
• Have learning disabilities (including intellectual disabilities)
• Have sleeping and sucking problems
• Have speech and language delays
• Have behavioral problems

In order to continue raising awareness about alcohol use during pregnancy and FASDs, the CDC has posted a feature telling one woman’s story and her challenges with her son who has FASD. It’s an eye opener. The CDC’s FASD website has lots more information, too.

Smoking and heart defects

Monday, April 25th, 2011

cigarette-buttsWe all know that smoking isn’t good for us, but it’s hard to quit. There is growing evidence linking mom’s cigarette smoking during the first trimester with the occurrence of some birth defects. In the past we learned that smoking during pregnancy may increase the risk of a developing baby having a cleft lip or palate. A new study finds it might also increase the risk of the baby having a heart defect.

When you smoke during pregnancy, your baby is exposed to dangerous chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar. These chemicals can lessen the amount of oxygen that your baby gets. Oxygen is very important for helping your baby grow healthy. Smoking can also damage your baby’s lungs.

The findings from a new study out of Baltimore are in line with findings from previous studies, including those from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, suggesting that maternal cigarette smoking during the first trimester of pregnancy might be a modest risk factor for certain heart defects.

Congenital heart defects are conditions present at birth that decrease the ability of the heart to work well, which can result in an increased likelihood of death or long-term disabilities. They affect nearly 40,000 infants in the United States every year.

We know quitting smoking can be hard, really hard, but it is one of the best ways a woman can protect herself and her baby’s health. Quitting smoking before getting pregnant is best. But for a woman who is already pregnant, quitting as early as possible can still help protect against some health problems for the baby, such as low birthweight. Whatever you can do to limit the amount of smoke you and you’re your baby are exposed to is fabulous.  Need help? Call this free number: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

Charlie’s very early arrival

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Our guest post today is from one of our wonderful volunteers.

At my 20 week ultrasound, I was measuring and feeling great, and the baby was growing well. I was so excited to be pregnant. We had signed up for birthing and breast-feeding classes.  We bought our first house and a new car, and negotiated baby names. We thought we were prepared.  Just 5 short weeks later, though, we realized we were wrong.

I walked from work to the nearest hospital one morning with concerns about some cramping and light bleeding. The contraction monitor did not registering any activity, though, and a fetal heart-rate monitor showed no distress. I was suspicious about the fact that the cramps were occurring at regular intervals like contractions, but the machines kept everyone calm until the doctor examined me. Everything changed with his words: “You’re 6 cm dilated. Your baby is coming today.”

While I cried, the nurses sprang into action, administering steroids for the baby’s lungs and magnesium sulfate to delay labor. But my body would not cooperate. After a mercifully short labor, Charlie marked his entrance into the world with a tiny mewl of a cry that took my breath away.

Our sweet baby was immediately in danger. At just 1 pound, 15 ounces, his body was shocking in its minute perfection. We had only a minute or so with him before they whisked him away, but I was instantly in love. 

Within the week, we got an education in micro-prematurity: ventilators and C-PAPs, central lines, intraventricular hemorrhages, pulmonary embolism, patent ductus arteriosis, and bilirubin counts.  In layman’s terms, our baby boy was on a breathing machine, being fed through a tube in his belly, had a lung bleed and brain bleeds, and a congenital heart defect that might require surgery. He was jaundiced, his eyes were fused, and his face and body were bruised from my contractions. Some days it felt like too much to handle. But the doctors and nurses told us to believe in our son. “Your son’s a fighter”, they would remind us.  And they were right; after 85 long days in the NICU, we brought Charlie home.

The tough times were not over once we brought him home. We fortified his bottles and fretted over his weight gain – and now he’s tall for his age. We wondered why he didn’t babble like other kids, and now we can’t get him to be quiet. We thought he’d never start to crawl; today he races across the playground equipment and down the slide. Charlie is now 2 ½ years old and in preschool. He is strong, healthy, funny, brave and tests us constantly. He still exhibits every bit of the fighting spirit that helped him pull through in the NICU. We are so proud.

Our experience taught me so much that I wish all moms knew:
• Listen to your body. Machines may say everything is fine, but you know when you don’t feel right. Tell someone!
• Trust in the miracle of modern medicine, and the strides that the March of Dimes and others have made to dramatically improve the survival rate of preemies. 
• Understand that your baby is STRONG, and your love and support make a difference.

Managing weight for baby’s sake

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

scaleYou might remember me writing about my best friend and her new baby, Milana. I can’t get over how cute Milana is!!! Now that she’s 4 months old and doing fine, my best friend is ready to hit the gym and lose the weight she gained during pregnancy. I’m hitting the gym, too – not to lose any baby weight, but rather to stay at a healthy weight for the baby I’ll have someday.

I know all about the benefits of being at a healthy weight, such as reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and more. But I was fascinated to learn that being at a healthy weight has a major impact on the health of your baby, even before pregnancy.

USA Today recently featured an article about a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study reviewed research that showed babies born to overweight, obese moms were more likely to face special health risks. Some of these risks include birth defects (spina bifida, cleft palate, heart defects), being born prematurely or being born too large (macrosomia).

Since you can’t diet once you’re pregnant (because you risk limiting nutrients your baby needs to grow), it’s very important to eat healthy and manage weight before getting pregnant. Not only will I have a better chance of having a healthy pregnancy someday, my future baby will also have a better chance of being born healthy.

Smoking can hurt your baby’s heart

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Smoking early in pregnancy can increase the risk of heart defects in your baby. This is what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in a recent study. The more the woman smokes, the greater the risk.

For more information and to get help for quitting, see the March of Dimes article on smoking. To learn about heart defects, read the March of Dimes fact sheet.