When a baby is born with a heart defect, it is called congenital heart disease. One of the primary goals in treating a newborn with congenital heart disease is making sure that the baby receives enough calories to
- support growth, and
- make up for the fact that the infant’s body and heart have to work harder to support vital life functions.
To gain weight, babies with congenital heart disease need to take in more calories than their bodies are burning, but it is not always as easy as just having them eat more. Often, their stomachs cannot hold larger amounts of formula or breast milk, or they just tire out before they can drink it all. If you are the parent of an infant with congenital heart disease, your pediatrician or cardiologist may recommend increasing the calories of your baby’s formula or breast milk.
Basic formula and human breast milk both have 20 calories per ounce. There are some increased calorie formulas available, or your doctor may give you instructions on how to mix your baby’s formula at home to provide more calories per ounce. A baby with congenital heart disease may require milk that is 24 to 30 calories per ounce. Breast milk can be fortified to increase the calories. To increase the calories of the breast milk, you would need to pump and then mix in the fortifier (your doctor will provide instructions).
Sometimes, even with increased calories, babies with congenital heart disease are not able to take in enough by mouth to gain weight. In this case, your baby may need to have a nasogastric (NG) tube placed. This is a small flexible tube that is placed in your baby’s nose and passed down into the stomach. This allows for formula or breast milk to be given without your baby having to burn so many calories to take it by mouth.