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We take a look at heart health during pregnancy and what you can do to help your child long-term

Your health and your baby’s heart

Having a healthy diet and taking regular exercise has been proven to be good for your unborn baby. Studies at Southampton University show that maternal diet during pregnancy can have lasting effects on children’s heart health later in life. The British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, says: ‘This study is important because it strengthens the evidence that eating a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy directly reduces the risk that your child will grow up to become overweight or obese.’

The Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences has published research in Early Human Development revealing that women who exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, three days a week, had babies with lower heart rates compared to women who didn’t exercise (a low heart rate indicates that your baby’s heart is in good health). The differences between these groups were still seen one month after birth.

Congenital heart disease

This occurs in one in every 167 pregnancies in the UK and means that the baby’s heart has not formed properly while in the womb. Sadly it’s very hard to predict who will develop the disease, but for more than half of the children affected the disease is only a minor problem which either doesn’t need any treatment, or which can be successfully corrected with surgery. However, it remains the most common birth defect there is, so it’s vital to pay close attention to the baby’s heart at the 20-week scan.

At 20 weeks your baby’s heart will be the size of a thumbnail, but an ultrasound scan can still reveal great detail. In some cases detecting heart abnormalities before birth can help to save lives, and antenatal detection gives parents the opportunity to be prepared.

Find out more about prenatal screening.

A healthy future

It goes without saying that the fundamentals of a healthy diet, regular exercise, giving up smoking and cutting down on your alcohol consumption are the building blocks for improved health. Teaching your little one about diet and exercise from an early age may also make it easier for them to live more healthily in the future and the best way to get the message across, of course, is to lead by example.

“By eating a healthy, balanced diet, mums can help protect their own and their child’s heart health.” Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director, British Heart Foundation

Did you know?

Researchers at the University of California San Diego have discovered that pregnancy can reduce a woman’s likelihood of suffering from or dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) later in life. They also found that women who’d had four or more pregnancies had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, but can’t yet say why.


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