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Health & Pregnancy

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8 Tips to Help Babies' Hearts

American Heart Association Issues New Recommendations to Help Prevent Congenital Heart Defects
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 22, 2007 -- The American Heart Association has issued eight new recommendations to help reduce congenital heart defects in babies.

The recommendations include actions women can take before becoming pregnant.

The recommendations, printed in the journal Circulation, are as follows:

  • Take a multivitamin that contains folic acid.
  • Get preconception and prenatal medical care.
  • Get screened for diabetes. If you have diabetes, manage it carefully during pregnancy.
  • Get vaccinated against rubella and influenza (flu).
  • If you have an inherited disease called PKU (phenylketonuria), which affects your diet, talk to your doctor about proper nutrition during pregnancy.
  • With your doctor, review any medicines you use, including over-the-counter drugs.
  • Avoid contact with people who have the flu or other feverish illnesses.
  • Avoid exposure to organic solvents, found in products including paints and lacquers.

Those tips, endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, come from doctors who reviewed research on uninherited risk factors for congenital heart defects.

They included Catherine Webb, MD. She works in Chicago as a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Memorial Hospital and as a pediatrics professor at Northwestern University's medical school.

Prevention Prior to Pregnancy

In an American Heart Association news release, Webb stresses "the need to think about prevention of heart defects in babies before conception and very early in pregnancy.

"Paying attention to parental lifestyle issues and the association with congenital heart disease is a good start," says Webb.

"However," she adds, "congenital heart disease may still occur in children despite excellent prenatal care and the very best efforts on the parents' part."

Webb's team only reviewed observational studies, which don't directly test strategies to prevent congenital heart defects. It's possible that unmeasured factors affected the studies' results.

Webb and colleagues aren't blaming congenital heart defects on what parents did or didn't do before having a baby. Doctors often don't know exactly why congenital heart defects occur, and genes can play a role in congenital heart defects.

"It is very important to continue to learn much more about prevention of congenital heart disease through ongoing research," says Webb.

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