What is CHD?

A congenital heart defect (CHD) is a heart problem which is present at birth. It is caused by abnormal formation of the heart during fetal development. In most cases, when a baby is born with congenital heart disease, there is no known reason for it.

Things to Know About CHD Babies?

Nearly 1 in 100 babies (about 1 percent or 40,000 babies) is born with a heart defect in the United States each year. About 4,800 babies each year are born with CCHD. Many heart defects don’t need treatment or can be fixed easily.

How can heart defects affect your baby?

Heart defects can affect different parts of your baby’s heart, including:

(Hover to the heart to see the effect)

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Heart valves
Arteries and veins

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart to the body. Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from the body to the heart.

When in defect:

The blood flow slow down

These open and close to control blood flow to and from the heart.

When in defect:

Go in the wrong direction or to the wrong place

This is the wall that splits the right and left sides of the heart.

When in defect:

The blood flow will be blocked completely

How do you know if your baby has a congenital heart defect?

Severe congenital heart defects usually are diagnosed during pregnancy or soon after birth. Less severe heart defects often aren’t diagnosed until children are older.

During pregnancy

Your provider may use a test called fetal echo to check your baby’s heart. This test makes a picture of your baby’s heart while still in the uterus (womb). You can have this test as early as 18 to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

You may need a fetal echo if:

  • Your provider finds a possible problem, like your baby has an abnormal heart rhythm, during an ultrasound.

  • You have a medical condition, like diabetes or lupus, that may play a role in congenital heart defects. 

  • You have a family history of congenital heart defects or heart disease.

  • Your baby has a chromosomal condition, like Down syndrome, Turner syndrome or VCF

After birth

Your baby may be tested for CCHD as part of newborn screening before he leaves the hospital after birth. Newborn screening checks for serious but rare conditions at birth. It includes blood, hearing and heart screening. All states require newborn screening, but they don’t all require screening for CCHD. Ask your provider if your state tests for CCHD.

Babies are screened for CCHD with a test called pulse oximetry (also called pulse ox). This test checks the amount of oxygen in your baby’s blood using a sensor attached to his finger or foot.

After birth, signs and symptoms of heart defects can include:

  • Fast breathing

  • Gray or blue skin coloring

  • Fatigue (feeling tired all of the time)

  • Slow weight gain

  • Swollen belly, legs or puffiness around the eyes

  • Trouble breathing while feeding

  • Sweating, especially while feeding

  • Abnormal heart murmur (extra or abnormal sounds heard during a heartbeat)

If your baby shows any of these signs or symptoms, call her health care provider right away. Your baby’s provider may use these tests to check for heart defects:

Physical exam

Your baby’s provider listens to your baby’s heart and lungs with a stethoscope and looks for other signs of a heart defect.


It is also called an echo or a cardiac ultrasound. This is an ultrasound of the heart. It uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart. Your baby’s provider can see the heart beating and check the heart’s valves and other parts.


It is also called EKG or ECG. This test records how fast the heart is beating and if its rhythm is steady or not. It can show if one of the heart’s chambers is enlarged.

Chest X-ray

This test makes pictures of your baby’s chest and organs, like the heart and lungs. It can show if the heart is enlarged. It also can show if the lungs have extra blood flow or extra fluid. Extra fluid in the lungs is a sign of heart failure.

Pulse oximetry

Cardiac catheterization

In this procedure, your baby’s provider moves a catheter into a vein in your baby’s arm, groin (upper thigh) or neck. Once the tube moves into the heart, a special dye in the catheter flows into a blood vessel or one of the heart’s chambers. On an X-ray, the dye shows blood flowing through the heart and blood vessels. Your baby’s provider can see if blood is mixing between the two sides of the heart.