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Part II: For Your Heart That Beats Outside of Your Body

Having a child someone once said, is like having your heart placed outside your body. But what happens when this second heart of yours is unwell? When its beats are not beating a regular rhythm? How do you protect this second heart of yours? And more importantly how do you take care of yourself, so you can be there for this little heart?

Early detection of Congenital Heart Defects (CHD) is highly beneficial and in most cases is crucial. India has a relatively low awareness with regard to CHD, in comparison to the United States where many states have made it compulsory for the new-born to be screened for any CHD before being taken home from the hospital. As a mother, you will probably be the one spending most time in close proximity with your child, and here are a few warning signs you can look out for in case you suspect CHD, written by Dr Darshak Sanghavi, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at University of Massachusetts Medical School.

1. Problems with feeding or growth

Heart defects place a lot of strain on the heart, causing it to beat much faster or harder than normal in order to pump enough blood around a baby's body. In those cases, babies need a huge number of calories just to keep the heart pumping. It's as though a baby was running on a treadmill continuously, during all her waking and sleeping hours. As a result, infants might either eat voraciously or lack the energy to eat, sweat constantly like they're working out, and not gain any weight.

2. Breathing trouble

Babies can develop serious trouble breathing, and turn blue from lack of oxygen. Without a blink of an eye, this requires a trip to an emergency room. These symptoms can often be caused by a serious infection that needs prompt antibiotic treatment. A serious heart defect is responsible for the breathing difficulties.

3. Chronic choking and coughing spells

Sometimes in particular CHDs, the blood vessels coming from the heart are tangled and wrap around the breathing tube (trachea) or feeding tube (esophagus). Called a vascular ring, these heart defects squeeze and constrict those areas, causing breathing or feeding trouble.

In the end, keep in mind that most babies have a perfectly normal heart. But if any of these symptoms occur, at least you'll be armed with the right knowledge to help your child. At Genesis Foundation, we are committed to fund-raising for child surgery, as well as the treatment of critically ill children from lesser privileged backgrounds, and also importantly we aim to spread awareness on CHD.

If your child is detected with CHD, another thing some mothers face is guilt, a feeling of what they could have done better. It is important that you do not engage in such thoughts, and instead focus on how to be there for your child during this stressful time. In the run up to Mother’s Day, we wish all the brave mothers holding their children’s hand during difficult times like these a very, very Happy Mother’s Day. All our love and prayers go out to you!

- Contributed by Ranjini Nair