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Can a Woman with a Congenital Heart Defect Still Have a Baby?

Updated on June 22, 2012
Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean resides in North Dakota where she works as a freelance writer and blogs at Faith's Mom's Blog.

The short answer to this question is, maybe. It really depends on what kind of congenital heart defect (CHD) the woman has. If it is one of the more complex defects and has certain symptoms present, the answer may be no. If it is a less complex defect, the answer may be yes. More than likely, for a woman who has a more complex heart condition, the pregnancy would be considered high risk.

echocardiogram showing a ventricular septal defect
echocardiogram showing a ventricular septal defect

At one time, it was believed that it was never a good idea for a woman with a congenital heart defect to get pregnant. Now, however, with advances in medical technology and increased studies with adults who have congenital heart defects, that is no longer the case.

According to Dr. Carole Warnes, a cardiologist from the Mayo Clinic who specializes in adults with CHD, "most women, even with complex anomalies can have successful pregnancies."

Dr. Warnes also says that "a growing medical understanding of how to manage heart conditions during pregnancy and delivery has led more cardiologists to explain the risks but give women the choice to have babies if they choose."

one risk of women with CHD having a baby is that the baby could also be born with a heart defect
one risk of women with CHD having a baby is that the baby could also be born with a heart defect

What Are the Risks?

In a normal pregnancy, the volume of plasma produced is raised by 50% in the second trimester. The mother's blood pressure may decline and the heart rate raises by 10-20%. This is why it is riskier for a woman with a heart defect, especially a more complex heart defect, to be pregnant.

Some of those risks include:

  • Blood clots
  • Arrythmia
  • Stroke
  • Heart Failure
  • The baby might be born with a heart condition (a fetal echocardiogram can be done in the 18th week of pregnancy to determine this)
  • Certain heart medications can pose a risk to the developing fetus
  • A c-section is riskier than a vaginal delivery because there is more blood loss

There are some instances where it is highly recommended that a woman with the following conditions should not get pregnant:

  • pulmonary hypertension - high blood pressure in the arteries leading from the heart to the lungs
  • pulmonary vascular disease such as Eisenmenger’s - when there is a hole between the two pumping chambers (ventricles)
  • women who are cyanotic - a bluish tint to the skin and/or fingernails and lips due to lack of oxygen

In these instances, there is a high risk of death to the mother and/or the baby.

Women born with complex CHD who have had corrective surgeries such as Fontan, Mustard, and Rastelli, are a relatively new group of women. But data has proven that women who have had these procedures and who are clinically stable, seem to do well through pregnancy. However, it is still good for them to be closely monitored.

Consult Your Cardiologist

It is important that if you do have a congenital heart defect, that you discuss having a baby with your cardiologist before getting pregnant. Preferably, you should see a cardiologist who specializes in adults with congenital heart defects. Most likely, especially if your pregnancy would be considered high risk, you will have to be closely monitored.  

Safe Contraception

It is also important to note that for women with CHD, depending on their condition, they may have to avoid certain types of birth control, such as estrogen-containing birth control. These may increase the risk of blood clots. An example of estrogen-containing birth control would the the pill. Also, intrauterine devices (IUD) may have to be avoided due to increased risk of infection. It is important for a womam with a congenital heart defect to talk to their cardiologist about contraception that is safe for them.

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    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Sarah - thanks for your comment. Women with CHD have a higher chance of having a baby prematurely which could result in complications. IT could also result in death for the mom and/or the baby. Adoption has been a great option for women with CHD. But for some women, the desire to have their own baby supersedes all risk. Hopefully with more research and advances in technology, it will get safer for women with CHD to have a baby.

    • profile image

      Sarah 

      7 years ago

      I don't understand why women with mitral valve prolapse/CHD etc... still want to have babies? This is selfish as the baby could be disabled or have brain damage. Ladies you need to think of your health and the baby's health. As it is people with MVP live less years than those who do not suffer from this. I think women should use their brain when they have MVP disease and not just want to reproduce because they just want to have a baby. This doesn't make sense.You are still alive, that's why you are all posting comments at the moment, but think of so many women with CHD/MVP who are dead after giving birth or whose kids have died at birth, they are not here to post silly comments or achievements...

    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      larahea1 - oh my goodness, I am so relieved to hear it all worked out for you. There are adults with congenital heart conditions who don't even know it, which could be detrimental. I hope you are doing okay now and are seeing someone for your condition. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • lararhea1 profile image

      lararhea1 

      7 years ago from Houston, TX

      I had a congenital heart defect and several heart problems when I was pregnant. I had a hole in my heart and suffered from ventricular tachycardia and bradycardia (none of this was known at the time). The pregnancy was extremely hard on me mostly because I had such a hard time breathing, I passed out so often, and I had no energy due to the lack of properly oxygenated blood. However, I did deliver a healthy, beautiful baby who is 13 years old today!! Thank you for such a great article!

    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      9 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      katiem2 - thank you so much for your comment. It's great that in today's world women with CHD can have babies, but your're right, it is vital to consult and follow up with a cardiologist.

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      9 years ago from Westerville

      Cari Jean, I have mitral valve prolapse and have experienced two very difficult pregnancies. It is vital to get the care and follow ups of a good cardiologist! Great and informative hub. Thanks and Peace :)

    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      9 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Ken - thanks for your comment. Also, yeah I checked out your hub - you totally shocked me, not to mention almost made me cry!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 

      9 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Lot of good info here. Thanks.

      BTW, I've sent you a couple e-mails via HubPages, but it's come to my attention that there's some problem in cyberspace.

      Anyway, Wednesday afternoon I published a Hub in which you, along with several other Hubbers, were featured. Hope you enjoy it.

      And I just sent a friend request on Facebook. Maybe you better read my Hub before accepting it. :>)

    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      9 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      HealthyHanna - thanks so much for your comment. I really hope this hub does help women who have CHD who are thinking about having a baby - or warn them that that their pregnancy may be high risk.

    • HealthyHanna profile image

      HealthyHanna 

      9 years ago from Utah

      Good hub to help weigh the decisions facing a woman in this condition. For those who have a hard time writing things out, this really helps in seeing the whole picture in trying to make a decision.

    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      9 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Lady_E - you're right, extra care is required! It is great that so many of these women can indeed have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby!

    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      9 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Hello, hello - thanks for your comment. Yes, it can be a very hard decision for a woman with CHD. Thankfully for some women, adoption is always an option.

    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      9 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Ann Nonymous - I'm glad you found this hub educational. Women with CHD deciding to have a baby is a relatively new thing since the survival rate of having CHD has increased so much in the past 10-20 years. Now these babies who survived CHD, thanks to modern technology, are becoming adults and are having to make these kinds of decisions. Thanks so much for your comment!

    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      9 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Pamela99 - thanks so much for your comment. I do agree that God gave us doctors to help us make decisions. A high risk pregnancy can be scary and I think it is important to weigh all the options before going through with getting pregnant, but I also believe that having trust in God can go a long way too!

    • Cari Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Cari Jean 

      9 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Specialk3749 - I know we have discussed this on other hubs and you know this is something I struggle with - the whole Faith vs. Medicine thing. I struggled with it my whole pregnancy. Even though I have complex CHD I stepped out on faith and got pregnant. Everything, including my heart was doing great. I was seeing a high-risk doctor and I had contacted my cardiologist at Mayo Clinic to let them know I was pregnant. But then at 26 weeks I went into pre-term labor and had to be flown from North Dakota to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. While in Rochester, I stopped bleeding and having contractions until three weeks later when I started bleeding again. I wanted to be able to trust God that everything was going to be ok so I decided to stay in my hotel (where I was staying in Rochester - they wanted me to stick around even tho I didn't have to be in the hospital). I prayed that everything would would okay and then called my husband who told me to GET TO THE HOSPITAL! To make a long story short my daughter was born that day - 11 weeks early and ended up with some damage to her brain. I often wonder what would have happened if I had not gone to the hospital and left it up to God?

      With all that being said, I would have been willing to try to have another baby but it takes two to make a baby and my husband was not willing. When I turned a certain age, even my cardiologist decided against it.

      I do believe we have to trust God but I also believe he wants us to take responsibility for ourselves which includes seeing doctors.

      I do appreciate your comment, as you know I love you as a sister in the Lord and I truly admire your faith and strength and I do not condemn you in any way for your thoughts and beliefs. Thank you for sharing them.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Interesting Hub Cari - Very useful for people with that condition. I personally believe that such people can still go ahead an have healthy babies - they will just need extra care.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      This is a great explanatory hub for women who have that condition and, of course, are anguish to have a baby. I am sure it will be of great help to them. Thank you.

    • Ann Nonymous profile image

      Ann Nonymous 

      9 years ago from Virginia

      I learned a lot here, Cari. To my shame I didn't know much about CHD and the impact it would have on women who want to have children. Thanks for an educational hub! Well done.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Cari, I think it is important to seek advice from a cardiologist certainly before getting pregnant. God gave us doctors to help us along the path of life. When someone already has children and could possibly loose there life by having another, that is a huge consideration as those children have lost a mother. And, I think the decision should be made jointly with the husband having input as he risks losing his wife also. Your hub was very interesting.

    • Specialk3749 profile image

      Karen Metz 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Very interesting hub, Cari! I know that we should take into consideration what drs have to say, but they are still not God. I believe that God is in control of the womb and if it isn't in our best interest, He will not allow pregnancy. It really is a matter of prayer and having faith in God but very scary...especially when it could mean the life of the mother and/or baby. No one has yet to show me scripture that says we are to cut off our own seed (sterilizations & birth control) even if it is life threatening. I am dealing with this now. Another pregnancy for me could be life threatening, it is just a different problem than heart problems. Sorry for being a soap box, but thanks again for a great informative hub!

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