A baby’s first heartbeat happens as early as 16 days after conception.
Researchers used to think that the first time our heart muscle contracted to beat was at 8 days after conception in mice which equates to around day 21 of a human pregnancy. But a team funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) at the University of Oxford found it is far earlier.
‘We are trying to better understand how the heart develops, and ultimately what causes the heart defects that develop in the womb before birth and to extrapolate to adult heart repair, said BHF Professor Paul Riley, who led the research at the University of Oxford.
‘By finding out how the heart first starts to beat and how problems can arise in heart development, we are one step closer to being able to prevent heart conditions from arising during pregnancy.
‘We also hope that this new research will help us to learn how the beating of new heart muscle cells might be triggered in replaced muscle after a heart attack.’
Professor Riley and his team also hope that these findings will bring them closer to being able to repair damaged muscle after a heart attack, which can lead to heart failure.
Congenital heart disease is diagnosed in at least 1 in 180 births, which equates to around 4,000 each year or 12 babies each day, in the UK.
The researchers ultimately hope that by understanding more about how the heart forms in the womb they will one day be able to prevent heart conditions that arise as a baby develops.