Hearing the sound of your baby’s heart beat for the first time is a memorable experience, but have you ever thought about the development of your baby’s heart. Interestingly the size of a human being’s heart, from the time he is born as an infant to his death is same.
During the early pregnancy fetal heart occupies most of the mid-section of the fetus and during this period the size of the heart is almost nine times larger than that of an infant. Proper development of fetal heart is highly necessary for the proper development of the fetus. This is because heart supplies the blood and oxygen which are essential for the development of the various organs of the fetus. Heart is the first organ that becomes functional in a fetus.
During the early pregnancy the appearance, size and heart rate of the fetus varies rapidly and there are several phases of heart development. Heart development starts from the 22nd day of conception which is around the fourth week of pregnancy. From fifth week of pregnancy onwards heart begins to beat and by sixth week heart beat becomes regular. Using an ultrasound scan doctors can detect heart beat from fifth week of pregnancy onwards. By eighth week of pregnancy heart develops completely and starts to beat 150 times per minute.
Initially human heart appears more like a tube and resembles a fish heart. Fetal heart grows faster, hence it requires more space and so the tube like heart twists and bends. During this second phase, there will be a big ventricle and the atria starts to separate partially. These two chambers of heart resemble more of a frog’s heart. During this period heart begins to beat, as the cardiac muscles have an inherent ability to contract even in the absence of nervous system stimulations.
In the third phase the two atria separates completely and the ventricles begins to separate. But the right and left atria remains open to each other through an opening in the septum called foramen ovale which gets closed at the time of birth when the infant takes his/her first breath. This three chambered phase of heat resembles the heat of a turtle or snake. Finally during the fourth phase the ventricles also get separated and attain a four chambered heart with aorta and pulmonary artery in place.
After birth the aorta supplies the oxygenated pure blood from the heart to the rest of the body while the pulmonary artery carries the deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs. The heart development can be affected at any point of this development process by certain factors that affect the division, growth and migration of the cells and may leads to congenital heart problems.
Certain factors that affect heart development include chromosomal abnormalities, genetic abnormalities, maternal diseases like diabetes, rubella infection, lack of proper nutrients, drugs that an expected mother takes and exposure to certain harmful substances such as solvents, pesticides, paints, air pollution, radiation etc.
Even though certain heart defects are non-preventable certain others can be avoided by taking healthy foods, prenatal vitamins and also by avoiding the consumption of alcohol, smoking and illicit drugs. Also carry out regular checkups and take all the precautions to protect your unborn baby.