Baby Talk: When it comes to a healthy heart, may the beat go on and on and on

Interesting: In the Arabic and Hebrew languages, the word for womb, Rachem, is also used for the word for mercy.

It is at the mother’s mercy that a child develops inside her uterus/womb. Mercy involves sacrifice and providing kindness to another person.

Anyone who has been pregnant can tell you there is indeed a lot of sacrifice and kindness, both physically and emotionally, in growing a child.

The three stages of growth inside the womb are germinal (0 to 2 weeks), embryonic (3 to 8 weeks) and fetal (9 weeks until birth).

During the germinal stage, the zygote (the fertilized egg) travels from the fallopian tube to the womb. There the zygote continues to have rapid cell division and implants itself in the lining of the womb. From this cell division the embryo, placenta and umbilical cord emerge.

At around 16 days the first organ develops, the heart. Isn’t it amazing that the first organ to develop is the heart and the end of a person’s life is when the heart stops beating.

This time of year, there are “hearts” everywhere in celebration of Valentine’s day. The heart has been valued for centuries as the source of happiness, the center of compassion, the seat of the spirit, the source of our emotions and intellect.

The common symbol of the heart is believed to have come from the silphium plant. In ancient history, the silphium plant was valued for its perfume and was considered an aphrodisiac.

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Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace.

However the human doesn’t look anything like a silphium seed pod. It is a simple, complicated, organized organ. Its primary purpose is sending blood out to the rest of the body and receiving the blood so it can be oxygenated by the lungs is different during fetal development and after birth.

The heart consists of four chambers: Right atrium, left atrium, right ventricle and left ventricle. There are valves between these chambers allowing blood to flow from chamber to chamber.

The blood flowing through the fetus’ heart is more complicated than the flow after birth. This is because the mother (the placenta) is doing the work the baby’s lungs will do after delivery.

The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus while removing carbon dioxide and other waste products. The oxygenated blood then returns to the fetus via the umbilical vein. The blood flows to the fetus’ liver where it splits into three branches.

Blood reaches the heart via the inferior vena cava. When the blood returns to the baby’s heart it enters the right atrium. Around 90 percent of that blood then goes to the left atrium though a hole called the foreman ovale.

The red blood then goes from the left atrium to the left ventricle and then out the aorta to nourish the baby’s brain. The other 10 percent of blood trickles down into the right ventricle. This blood is diverted from the lungs through the ductus arteriosus to the aorta to nourish the lower part of the fetus’ body.

Indeed, nature is amazing.

When a baby takes their first breath, the foreman ovale and the ductus arteriosis are designed to close, allowing blood to now flow to the lungs for oxygenation. Sometimes they don’t close right away. These babies we watch carefully.

Wishing you and your loved ones healthy hearts and may the beat go on and on and on.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living in the Bradenton Herald. Contact her at

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