The Most Common Birth Defect: Have You Been Tested for It?

Suzanne Murray
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felt heart with bandaid

Photo by LuminousMom

It's Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week

Congenital heart defect is the number-one birth defect and the leading cause of newborn deaths. Yet three out of five women who have given birth to a baby with such a defect were never tested for it during their pregnancy.

"Congenital heart defects kill more children than childhood cancer, and yet, pregnant women are not routinely tested—and newborns are not routinely screened—for this defect," says Lenore Cameron, the president and executive director of Little Hearts, an organization that provides education and resources to families affected by congenital heart defects. "Early detection is absolutely critical to successful treatment—and, in countless cases, it saves lives."

The benefits of knowing in advance? According to a Little Hearts survey of women who knew in advance that their child would have a heart defect:

1. You'll be able to choose a hospital that's better equipped to deal with a newborn with a heart defect or arrange to have a pediatric cardiologist on hand for the birth of your child.

2. You can prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the arrival of a seriously ill baby.

3. You can do your research while you're still pregnant so you'll be better informed about how to care for your child.

More than 80 percent of the survey's respondents said that there was no history of the birth defect in their families.

According to the March of Dimes, most congenital heart defects cannot be prevented, but there are some steps you can take before and during your pregnancy that may help reduce the risk of having a baby with a heart defect: Take a multivitamin with folic acid; discuss all medicines (even herbal ones) with your health care provider; avoid sick people and germs; and avoid toxic cleaning products.

Have you had a test for congenital heart defects? Are you going to?

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