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Six things you need to know about your baby's heart--before she's born

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  February 13, 2013 09:22 AM

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When you're pregnant, what you want to think about is choosing a name and planning the baby's room. You don't want to think about the possibility that something could be wrong with your baby--especially with your baby's heart.

Luckily, most babies are born with healthy hearts--but heart defects are the most common type of birth defects. And with some heart defects, knowing ahead of time can make all the difference.

It can make all the difference for a baby's health. With some of the more serious defects, babies need special treatment and medications, and even surgery, shortly after birth. When parents know that their child has one of these defects, they can talk with their doctor about the best hospital to deliver the baby, and a team can be ready to take care of the baby as soon as she is born.

It can also make all the difference when it comes to preparation. Whether it's meeting doctors, learning about the condition and about surgery, touring a hospital or making child care plans for other children, knowing ahead of time allows parents to do all the things they might need or want to do to get ready.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all pregnant women get an ultrasound at 18-20 weeks to check the baby out from head to toe, and parents should be sure they get one--but even with this ultrasound, heart defects can be missed. There's a lot to look at, and some facilities and technicians are more skilled and experienced than others. That's why Dr. Tworetzky at Boston Children's Hospital developed this list of questions parents should ask during their ultrasound:

Do you see four chambers in the baby's heart?

Are there two upper chambers (left and right atria), each with a valve controlling blood flow out of them?

Are there two lower chambers (left and right ventricles), each with a valve controlling blood flow out of them?

Do the two vessels leaving the heart (aorta and pulmonary artery) cross each other as they exit?

Is the wall between the two lower chambers intact, without any holes?

Is everything else in the baby's heart normal?

If the answer to any of the questions is no, you should see a specialist like the ones at Boston Children's Advanced Fetal Care Center, to find out more and see if your baby will need any special treatment.

This is not meant to freak you out, although I understand that it might. It's true that some people might prefer not to know about these things ahead of time, because of the anxiety and upset it would bring. Ignorance can be bliss--but for some babies it can be dangerous. Talk with your doctor about what is best for you, your pregnancy, and your baby. 

Here's a video to check out--and you can also download a pdf of the questions.



This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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