7 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Congenital Heart Disease for Your Baby During Pregnancy

by Lisa McPhee, Open Arms Content Writer | February 6, 2023

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As February is National Heart Month in Canada and February 7-14 is CHD (congenital heart disease) awareness week, we at Open Arms Patient Advocacy found it important to aid in spreading the awareness of CHD. And how, if at all, you can avoid these conditions developing in your unborn child.

February 7th – 14th is CHD Awareness Week

Congenital Heart Disease is described by the Mayo Clinic as one or more problems with the heart’s structure that have existed since birth. Congenital means that you are born with the condition. CHD in adults and children can change the way blood flows through the heart. Years ago, it was much more uncommon to find adults living with CHD, however now, approximately 90% of surgically corrected cases in children live into adulthood. The Canadian Congenital Heart Alliance provides more valuable information on this group of diseases.

CHD is generally passed hereditarily from parents onto their children during embryonic development. This may not be avoided entirely. However, there are environmental risk factors that have been shown to increase the likelihood of a newborn developing CHD, which can be avoided. Mitigating these risk factors may help prevent these diseases in your baby.

1. Check your medications with your health care provider: Prior to conception, discuss with your health care provider which medications are safe during your pregnancy. According to the Mayo Clinic, Medications that are known to increase the risk of CHD include some blood pressure medications, statins, thalidomide, some acne medications, a variety of anxiety drugs and certain drugs for epilepsy.

2. Avoid Smoking: If you find yourself pregnant and you smoke, quit. The Journal of Pediatrics describes a strong association between maternal smoking and the threat of CHD in babies. Consult with your health care provider in the most effective ways to quit.

3. Do not consume alcohol during pregnancy: Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has also been shown to increase risks of CHD. As described in a recent meta-analysis of 55 studies on parental alcohol consumption and CHD, maternal and paternal alcohol exposures were significantly associated with risk of CHDs in offspring.

4. Diabetics, be vigilant in monitoring your blood glucose: If you are a diabetic, taking careful control of your blood sugar levels can reduce the risk of CHD in your baby. High blood sugar levels in the mother during pregnancy can increase the amount of sugar and insulin in the baby’s bloodstream. A Stanford study suggest that elevated blood-sugar levels are at greater risk for having babies with congenital heart defects. Discuss options to reduce your blood sugar levels.

5. Get vaccinated against German Measles (Rubella): Ensure prior to becoming pregnant that you are immune (determined via blood test), if you are not, there is a vaccine available. According to Stanford Children’s Hospital, becoming ill with rubella during pregnancy has been shown to increase the probability of the development of CHD.

6. Get regular prenatal care and take prenatal vitamins: During your pregnancy, getting regular prenatal care is pivotal in maintaining the health of both the mother and baby. Consider taking 400 mcg of folic acid. According to the Mayo Clinic daily folic acid has been shown to reduce the risks of brain and spinal cord defects and may also prevent heart defects as well

7. Avoid exposure to toxic chemicals: If possible, have someone else clean and/or paint with strong smelling chemicals. If this is not avoidable, number of sources suggest to keep rooms well ventilated, wear a respirator (N95 or KN95) and choose a paint that contains lower levels of volatile oil compounds (VOC). You will find these paints labeled as “low-VOC” or “zero-VOC.” Take note that even zero-VOC products can still contain some solvents.

By following some of these simple tips, you may be able to avoid painful surgery and life-long heart disease treatments for your child.


How can Open Arms Advocacy Help?

We advocate for a wide array of patient issues from emergency room care, senior care, women’s health, mental health and acute care to medical fatalities. We help patients get a second opinion, find a physician, place a complaint or access medical documents. Open Arms also helps families of patients with guidance, support and resources to get the answers they require.

If you need a patient advocate, please contact us at advocacy@openarmsadvocacy.com or fill out our intake form.