Monday, February 14, 2011

How to Lower Your Risk and Advocate for Your Baby's Tiny Little Heart

Happy Valentines Day!

Congential Heart Disease Awareness Weeks ends today. However this whole month is "heart" month, so I'll keep posting about CHD on Gwen's site. There's a lot to share.

About Congenital Heart Defects; a Short Review

A congenital heart defect (CHD) is a

structural problem of the heart that occurs

in the first seven weeks following conception.

CHD’s are the most common type of birth defect, affecting 1 in 100 babies born.

To date, doctors don't know the cause

of the majority of congenital heart defects.


For today - this is what I want every woman who is or who may one day become pregnant to be aware of:

Only 28% of women
of childbearing age
Folic Acid
can prevent birth defects.

11% knew
Folic Acid should be consumed
prior to pregnancy.


Folic acid can prevent up to 50 percent of many heart defects but only if taken for about two months prior to conception

according to pediatric cardiologist Darshak Sanghavi.

-New York Times 5/19/09


  • Folic Acid and Folate are the same thing. Folate occurs naturally in certain foods. Folic acid is the synthetic form of this B vitamin

  • Folic Acid is available to take individually. If you are having trouble taking your prenatal vitamins due to pregnancy-induced nausea and decide to temporarily halt the multi-vitamin, then be sure to continue to take folic acid.

  • Among other things, Folic Acid deals with energy production, formation of red blood cells, DNA and RNA synthesis, and proper cell division. Folate is needed to replicate DNA and maintain normal levels of red blood cells in the bone marrow.

  • Yes. A study was just released and hit the papers two days ago that said too much Folic Acid may cause cancer in off-spring. It will be interesting if and what the March of Dimes has to say, but from where I stand, the research and the findings are so preliminary, so early in the studies (only mice have been looked at) and quirky at that (some cancers were actually decreased...). Read from the source, for yourself: Folic Acid and Mice Study and then go get a bottle of folic acid or bake some broccoli (great recipe with that link).

That said, keep in mind the fact is, the cause of most congenital heart defects is unknown.

Research in this area is only beginning to inch towards learning possible genetic causes... and in some cases possibly enviro-genetic (where what the mother eats affects how the genetic code plays itself out. No joke.) I'll post the research headlines later. But for now, trust me, folic acid is every women's friend.


Finally, this is for the pregnant ladies out there -

Your 20 Week Ultrasound (what to ask your doctor) & Pulse Oximetry:

It is simple. You can be your babies advocate. And you need to be because to-date many heart defects are still missed until things are bad for the baby. Many doctors do not do as an extensive look at the heart at they should during the 20 week ultrasound and few doctors currently will do a "pulse ox" on your newborn.

Why is this? Because it takes a LONG time for this type of thing to become part of common practice. I believe both will someday.... behind the scenes movement is happening. But do you want to wait when it is your babies health and life on the line? Of course not. And I'm not trying to hype it up here - this is a reality and you should want to know about it and know how to avoid it if you can.

It is a cinch.

At your 20 Week Ultrasound:

When you are there, while they are looking at your baby, measuring and taking notes ask (personally, I think the first two are the most important, so memorize those):

1. Do you see 4 chambers?

2. Do you look at the arteries or outflow tracks as part of your scan?

*Note: Extremely important to focus on artery views. CHD often missed if only a standard “chamber view” is performed.

3. Are the heart and stomach in correct positions? Both organs should lay on the left side of the fetus.

4. Is the heart rate normal? Is the heart rate too slow (less than 100 beats per minute), too fast (over 200 beats per minute), or irregular? *Note: A normal heart rate range for a fetus is 120-180 beats per minute.

5. Is the heart function normal? Does the muscle work normally? Is everything hooked-up correctly?



After Your Baby is Born; Pulse Ox Screening

Finally, after your baby is born - be aware - most heart defects, even complex ones requiring surgery, are not detected in utero. So ask for a "pulse ox."

With pulse oximetry, a small sensor beams a red light through the foot and quickly measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. This test can help identity heart problems in otherwise normal-appearing newborns before they leave the hospital.

(Gwen's Feet at CHOP with her little "pulse ox")

Read more:

Screening For Broken Hearts - New York Times
(link to full article - an excellent read)
"In October (of 2008) researchers studying infant deaths over the past 16 years in California reported that hundreds of American infants probably die each year due to missed — but treatable — congenital heart defects."

Newborn Coalition Applauds Federal Advisory Committee Recommendation

"The Newborn Coalition, an advocacy group for America’s newest, most vulnerable citizens and their families, applauded the Committee for voting to recommend this vital screening – only the second condition to be added for inclusion to the mandatory newborn screening roster and the first point of care screening to be recommended by the committee. Pulse oximetry screening for CCCHD joins hearing screening as the only other point of care, non-metabolic screening to be recommended for all newborns."

(who even knew there was such a thing as the "Newborn Coalition"? They are fairly new themselves, and I'm for one, excited...check out their site when you follow the link above. Impressive.)

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