Tuesday, October 5, 2010

First Breath and Heart Holes

When babies take their first breath, a hole in their heart slams shut. I learned about this in my anatomy class, and I thought it was one of the most interesting things I had ever heard.

An unborn baby's circulation isn't like ours. The oxygen rich blood comes in through the umbilical cord and bypasses the lungs to supply their body with oxygen, and then the de-oxygenated blood leaves their body through the umbilical cord. Since they aren't using their lungs, they don't need all of the different chambers in the heart. There is a hole that connects the right and left atria called the foramen ovale.

You can see that the walls are overlapping, leaving a little space for the blood to pass through. The blood passes through that hole until the baby is born and something cold--usually air--hits the baby's face. Once that happens, the two flaps slam together, thereby creating a seal and directing the blood flow to the lungs. If a baby is born in warm water, the infant can stay under water for 10 or 15 minutes with the little hole still open. Once they're brought up, the hole closes and the baby uses their lungs oxygenate their blood. Crazy!

This is also what people refer to when they say they have a "hole in their heart." What that means is that the foramen ovale didn't seal completely. There is still a little gap and the blood can pass back and forth between those two chambers, mixing the oxygen rich and oxygen poor blood, making the whole circulatory system less efficient. It can be fixed with a simple surgery, so no worries there.

1 comment:

Kathy Haynie said...

Amazing. I had 5 babies, and never knew that was happening in those first precious moments.