February 7-14 is Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week. During this week we raise awareness about the most common type of birth defect, congenital heart defects (CHDs). CHDs are heart conditions that are present at birth. We don’t always know what causes a heart defect, but we know some things that can play a role.
What can you do?
Take folic acid. Folic acid may help prevent heart defects. Take a vitamin supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid in it every day, even if you’re not trying to get pregnant. Because nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, all women who can get pregnant should take folic acid every day. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy also can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects.
Get to a healthy weight before pregnancy. Being overweight during pregnancy can cause complications for you and your baby. The chances of having a baby with a birth defect, including heart defects, increase if you’re overweight or obese.
Get a preconception checkup. A preconception checkup helps your health care provider make sure that your body is ready for pregnancy. Talk to your provider about any medicine you take to make sure it’s safe for your baby. Get caught up on vaccinations before you get pregnant. Certain infections, like rubella, can increase the risk of having a baby with a heart defect.
If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar before and during pregnancy. Get your diabetes under control 3 to 6 months before you get pregnant. High blood sugar can be harmful to your baby during the first few weeks of pregnancy when his heart begins to form.
Don't smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy. Tobacco smoke and alcohol are harmful to your baby and can increase your baby’s risk for a heart defect. Tell your health care provider if you need help to quit. And don’t use electronic cigarettes (also called e-cigarettes). These contain chemicals, like nicotine, that can harm you and your baby.
Know your family history. Find out if you have a family history of congenital heart defects or heart disease. If you do, your provider may do a test called fetal echo to check your baby’s heart.
Visit marchofdimes.org for more information about congenital heart defects.