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When hearts are made

Could some congenital heart surgery be avoided?

“Little Matilda was just 10 days old when she had open heart surgery.” *

A congenital heart defect, which would have been fatal if untreated was detected using a foetal heart ultrasound. Thanks to technology, a young life was saved. However, this also raises much deeper questions. For example, WHY was there a problem with little Matilda’s heart?

Rarely does a day go by when we don’t read or hear reports of congenital defects in new born babies. These can be minor, such as a tongue-tie, to major conditions requiring immediate surgery or treatment as in Matilda’s case. When one considers the miracle of a new life forming inside a woman’s uterus, it could almost be excused that sometimes errors occur. But only sometimes.

When we dig deeper into the timeline showing the development of a baby from conception to birth, we begin to understand the importance of pre-conception preparation and pregnancy care for the mother. Each day in the developmental timeline signifies another building block that will become a baby. In order for you to fully appreciate the magnitude of creating a new life, let’s delve into what actually happens after sperm meets egg. When a healthy sperm meets the egg, it fuses with the ovum, creating a protective layer preventing any other sperm from also entering. The instructions in the sperm head trigger the process of cell division. One cell becomes two, two become four, four become eight, and so forth. This ball of rapidly dividing cells is called the blastocyst, which embeds into the uterus wall around day nine. From this early stage, the first of three embryonic or primordial tissues begins to form.

Once the egg is fertilised, the creation of a new life is locked in to a set timeline. The development of the embryo relies on specific nutrients being available in the correct quantities at the correct time—if one single nutrient is not available at the time an organ is being formed, then that organ may be damaged, impaired, or not function properly. The heart develops between weeks three and nine. Other tissues and organs that develop early on include the nervous system, including the spinal column which begin to form on day eighteen after fertilisation. Two vital component of the baby’s body are forming well before the woman may even realise she is pregnant. It is also noted in medical literature that major abnormalities tend to occur two weeks post fertilisation.

Throughout the entire gestation period, cells divide and turn into specific tissues and organs. The time of differentiation of each and every cell follows a set time frame—there is no deviation and no room for error or compromise. In order for a specific tissue to be created, certain nutrients must be present and available. These nutrients include amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and fats. For example, if one single nutrient is not available on any day that heart tissue is being formed, then the heart may not develop correctly. There’s no going back. The embryonic period does not allow for missing nutrients or building blocks; nor does it go back and repair once that nutrient is available. This is why it is so very important that the mum-to-be’s nutritional status is optimal well prior to conception and throughout pregnancy.

In my book, Conversations with my Daughter: How to Have a Healthy Baby I explain in greater detail the importance of pre-pregnancy preparation, nutrition, environmental toxins, genetics, digestion and the microbiome. While advances in medical technology continue to save lives, there remains a great deal that future parents can do to avoid unnecessary health complications regarding conception, pregnancy and the health of their future children.

*Sunday Mail, August 27, 2023 article by Isabella Holland


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