Prospective parents can take positive lifestyle steps to increase the chance that their baby will be born with a healthy heart, according to a new American Heart Association scientific statement.
The Non-inherited Risk Factors and Congenital Cardiovascular Defects: Current Knowledge statement was published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
" Lifestyle choices that prospective mothers make, may reduce the risk of giving birth to a baby with heart defects," said Kathy J Jenkins, MD, MPH, lead writer of the non-inherited risks statement and senior associate in Cardiology at the Children's Hospital, Boston.
" This statement highlights the need to think about the prevention of heart defects in babies before conception and very early in pregnancy," said Catherine L Webb, MD, MS, senior author of the statement, Pediatric Cardiologist at the Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and professor of Pediatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
"Paying attention to parental lifestyle issues and the association with congenital heart disease is a good start. However, congenital heart disease may still occur in children despite excellent prenatal care and the very best efforts on the parents' part".
" It is very important to continue to learn much more about the prevention of congenital heart disease through ongoing research studies."
The American Heart Association's Congenital Cardiac Defects Committee of the Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young examined the latest knowledge reflected in medical/scientific literature, which shed light on modifiable risk factors for congenital heart defects.
" This is a new way of thinking and a positive vision of how prospective mothers can influence and protect a child from being born with a heart defect," Ms Jenkins said. The committee had four key recommendations based on the literature review.
These lifestyle recommendations range from three months before pregnancy through the first trimester of pregnancy. The first and most important recommendation is to "talk to your doctor."
Good preconception and prenatal care is important to the birth of a heart-healthy baby. Prospective mothers should be checked for diabetes, rubella (German or three-day measles) and influenza.
Women of child-bearing age need to be immunized against rubella. Otherwise, rubella infection early in gestation carries the risk of congenital rubella syndrome in the offspring. Diabetes needs to be diagnosed and controlled.
" A second recommendation for women is to take a daily multivitamin containing 400 microgram (mcg) of folic acid or a folic acid supplement," Ms Jenkins, who is also an associate professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Folic acid is critical to the normal growth and development of the foetus and appears to have a protective effect against the development of heart defects.
Data suggest intake of folic acid is particularly important prior to conception. Third, parents should review medication use - even over-the-counter medications - with their doctor.
The last recommendation centers on what the prospective mother should avoid, such as contact with people who have the flu or other fever-related illnesses.
Any fever-related illness during the first trimester of pregnancy may carry a two-fold higher risk of offspring with heart defects.