February 18, 2020

Pregnancy and Congenital Heart Disease: Having a Baby if You Have a Heart Defect

Pregnant Woman Reading Book While Having Breakfast At HomeBy Cheri Hinshelwood

According to the Adult Congenital Heart Association, if one parent has a congenital heart disease (CHD), the risk of having a child with CHD is 3-6 percent — and even higher if the parent is the mother.

Advanced heart care has turned the impossibility of motherhood for women born with heart defects in years past into a reality now. While pregnancy carries risks for all women, risks are even greater for this group but not impossible to overcome. With proper planning, more women with CHD are becoming moms.

Women pump about 50 percent more blood during pregnancy for their baby to develop. For women with birth defects of the heart, the strain can be greater. Planning with a cardiologist and high-risk obstetrician can be priceless in guiding decisions for a safe labor and delivery.

“Preconceptual counseling is the most important thing for these women who want to become pregnant,” said James McGovern, MD, a pediatric and adult congenital cardiologist at Mission Health. He stresses that counseling should begin before a woman becomes pregnant.

“There’s a lot to cover to ensure a woman is safe during pregnancy and that she has the highest likelihood for an excellent outcome for her and her family,” said Dr. McGovern. “It’s important for these women to know their risks, such as having an irregular heartbeat or blood clots, take precautions and understand the risks of transmitting a heart condition to their child.”

Other important steps include maintaining proper weight and blood pressure and attending to her mental wellness. Dr. McGovern also recommends learning as much as possible about her condition overall. According to Dr. McGovern, excellent resources are available through the Adult Congenital Heart Association, including webinars and more.

“I encourage women with congenital heart disease to consider pregnancy if they would like to have a child,” said Dr. McGovern. “Let’s work together to understand the balance of risks and benefits, as well as what to do for a successful pregnancy.”

What pregnant mothers with congenital heart disease can do to help keep baby safe:
• Follow your doctor’s recommendations
• Manage stress
• Exercise regularly
• Eat healthy
• Avoid alcohol, tobacco products, illegal drugs, pesticides and lead
Courtesy Adult Congenital Heart Association

James McGovern, MD, is a pediatric and adult congenital cardiologist at Mission Health.

Having a baby? Find more information about Mission Health’s maternity services at missionhealth.org/baby.