Are you fascinated by the rapid lub-dup of your little one’s heartbeat? Like most new parents, you may be anxious about your newborn’s health. Here’s a dossier on your baby’s heart.
By Team ParentCircle
For many expectant parents, looking at the ultrasound images of their unborn child and hearing the soft heartbeat can be a life-changing experience. The realisation that they would soon become parents and have a huge responsibility towards this tiny being, dawns upon them when they hear the foetus’ beating heart.
And, when the baby finally arrives in this world, there are various aspects about her health that parents are concerned about. While a mother is mesmerised by the sound of her child’s heartbeat, the rapid heart rate may leave her feeling a little concerned. Is my baby’s heart beating a little too fast? Should I consult a doctor for the murmurs? There are many such questions about an infant’s heart health that new parents seek answers for.
To help you understand how a newborn's heart functions, here are some interesting facts:
1. The four chambers of a baby’s heart take shape at six weeks of pregnancy. Once the chambers and tubes are formed, blood starts flowing in and out of them.
2. A newborn's heart is different from an adult's heart.
“Immediately after birth the new-born circulation takes about 4-6 weeks to adjust and reach the adult type of circulation. These are two naturally occurring defects which takes 48 hours to 3 months to close. This would happen in a majority of cases.The heart muscles of a newborn take time to mature and are very sensitive during this period,” says Dr S Radha Krishnan.*
3. An infant’s heart always beats faster than that of an older child or adult. While the resting heart rate of a child and an adult is 60–100 beats per minute, that of a newborn is 130–160.
4. The adult heart is about the size of our fist and weighs around 300 g, but a newborn's heart is only as big as a walnut. However, if there is a defect in the heart, it may grow bigger in size. A combination of tests, including ECG, X-ray of the chest and echocardiography, can help detect any anomaly.
5. Atrial septal defect is the most common heart defect found in a newborn. This defect is also called a ‘hole’ in the heart. It is a congenital anomaly, wherein there is a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart. Sometimes, this condition may not cause any problems. But, if a big defect goes undetected, it may cause further damage to the heart and the lungs.
6. A ‘hole’ in the heart can be recognised by symptoms such as bluish colour of the baby's lips and tongue, and difficulty breathing and breastfeeding. The defect can be diagnosed with an echocardiography test.
7. Sometimes, due to turbulent flow of blood near the heart, a child’s heartbeat may be interspersed with a ‘whoosh’ sound. This sound can be detected with a stethoscope. This is called a heart murmur.
“Heart murmurs are produced due to flow turbulence across the heart and can arise due to obstructions in flow of blood, across abnormal valves or a hole in the heart. Heart murmur can go away if it is not due to the above factors. These are called ‘innocent murmurs.’ If the murmur is because of an abnormality, it will go away once it has been treated,” says Dr Radha Krishnan.
8. Have you heard of kangaroo care? This is the best way to ensure that your little one is relaxed and his heart is beating steadily. Kangaroo care means skin-to-skin contact with the mother. It is especially beneficial to babies who are born premature or are in the intensive care unit.
Now that you know about a newborn’s heart and how it functions, spend some time listening to the rhythm of your baby’s heartbeat. This will help you take better care of your little one and his heart.
*With inputs from Dr S Radha Krishnan, Director, Paediatric Cardiology at a leading hospital.
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