Think HEART: the signs that your baby may have a heart defect

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) affect approximately 1% of all babies.  Around a third of these are detected during pregnancy and another third during the standard newborn checks that are carried out in babies born in hospital before they go home. This means however that around 1 in 3 babies with a CHD will go home with an undetected and potentially life-threatening heart defect. CHDs are the biggest cause of death from a birth defect. They kill twice as many children each year as all childhood cancers combined.


Early detection is vital for helping to improve survival rates in children with CHDs. The Think HEART campaign was launched in order to help parents and health professionals become aware of the signs and symptoms of heart defects in babies.


An infographic summarising the different signs that your baby might have a heart defect. H - heart rate (too fast or too slow?) E - energy (sleepy, quiet or falling asleep during feeding?) A - appearance (pale, waxy, dusky, blue or grey skin colour?), R - respiration (too fast or too slow?) and T - temperature (cold to touch - especially hands and feet?)


What signs should new parents look out for?

Possible symptoms of a heart defect include the following:


  • H – Heart Rate – is the heart rate too fast or too slow? A normal heart rate in a baby is between 100 and 160bpm.
  • E – Energy – is the baby sleepy or quiet? Are they too tired to feed or falling asleep during feeds?
  • A – Appearance – is the baby’s skin pale, waxy, dusky, blue or greyish in colour?
  • R – Respiration – are they breathing too fast or too slow? A normal respiration rate in a baby is between 40 and 60 breaths per minute.
  • T – Temperature – are they cold to touch, especially their hands and feet?


If you think that your baby may have symptoms of a heart defect, it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible.


This post is part of a series of posts to raise awareness of congenital heart defects during Heart Month.  Please note that I am a heart parent and not a doctor.  The THINK Heart campaign is based on work carried out by Dr Joan LaRovere in 2009. For further information about Think HEART and congenital heart defects please visit the Children’s Heart Federation website at



33 thoughts on “Think HEART: the signs that your baby may have a heart defect

  1. This is such an important subject, my friends baby went blue and the midwife did not recognise but my friend insisted she was hospitalised, it turned out she had a huge heart defect which has resulted in many operations. Has she not acted as quickly and listened to the midwife things would have been very different thankfully she trusted her mothers instinct x

    1. Oh my goodness, how scary for you friend. I am so glad that she trusted her instinct and that her baby’s heart defect was detected and she was able to have surgery x

  2. Wow what a worthwhile topic. What great advice too of what to look out for. Hopefully more babies will be diagnosed with more awareness. Thanks for linking up to #MaternityMondays

  3. Brilliant informative piece Louise, thank you for sharing this. I feel so fortunate to have had three heart healthy children, and i really do count my blessings on this front!!

  4. What a great post. My little one had a few VSDs (closed now) and still has a ASD and a wonky aorta. He was in neonatal for rapid breathing (unrelated) and the heart defects were only picked up on day three. Luckily his were quite benign but if they weren’t and he was sent home on time then wow it doesn’t bear thinking about… thanks for writing this and your blog is lovely x #thetruthabout

    1. So glad that your little one’s heart issues were picked up before he came home and that he is doing well now and thank you for your lovely comment x

  5. Wow I didn’t know that statistic about CHDs killing twice as many babies as all childhood cancers – that’s quite shocking. Great post to raise awareness Louise Xx #thetruthabout

  6. Pretty shocking statistics there Louise. It is incredibly important to bring it to the fore, and I know that you’ll be reaching an audience who have not heard about these figures before. I applaud that. The information you have included to help parents recognise symptoms is succinct, which is all you need when delivering health information.

    Not everything can be picked up on scans before birth, so having an awareness of these symptoms when you are physically holding your baby in your arms is vital. A very important post on #TheTruthAbout – thanks for sharing xx

    1. Thank you Fiona – definitely important to raise awareness of possible symptoms in babies – as you say, not all things can be picked up on scans.

  7. Great post Louise. I didn’t know all the signs so thank you for informing me so well.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this on #SundaysStars. It is an invaluable post. One of my friends has a daughter with CHD and it took 9 months for her to be diagnosed. It is so important for all parents to know these symptoms. Hugs Mrs H xxxx

    1. Thank you Kyles – it is scary how many aren’t picked up until after the baby goes home. I’m always so thankful that Jessica’s heart condition was picked up at the 20 week scan as I know she wouldn’t be here today had it not been.

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