What happens to children with a severe congenital heart defect in the first 12 months of life?

Basically, children with a severe congenital heart defect, who are usually operated on shortly after birth, develop exactly like healthy children. However, some areas of development may be slower as a result of hospitalization or delays in maturing. How much development is delayed and what might cause that must be looked at individually in each case. For this reason, your child is usually examined by a specialist and looked after by therapists, such as physiotherapists, during their hospital stay.

Social behaviour

The social development of practically all children is age-appropriate, and it is only delayed if the child is ill for a very long time and has to be treated in the intensive care unit, for example. However, children catch up very quickly and enchant both their parents and their specialists.


Movement is the area of development that is most likely to be affected. Children with a severe congenital heart defect go through the same developmental steps as healthy children, but often slightly later. So perhaps a child sits at the age of 9 months or starts walking a little later. Specialists will discuss with you whether your child will benefit from additional therapy.


The development steps here are the same as for healthy children. It is rare for oral exploration to be delayed.


Children with a severe congenital heart defect make the same progress in speaking as other children.


Eating can be difficult for children with a severe congenital heart defect. This is often due to long hospital stays and tube feeding. The children eat or drink less because of the heart defect or have less appetite because of the medication. A feeding tube hinders many children during natural feeding. This situation can put you under a lot of pressure as a parent. With an experienced pediatrician and nutritionist in the hospital, normal food intake is often possible during the first year of life with help from experienced pediatricians and nutritionists. Of course, there are also children who do not have these problems at all.


As a rule, heart children sleep very well and have no problems developing a sleep rhythm, even if they have been in hospital for a long time.


Bea Latal (2016): Neurodevelopmental outcomes of the child with congenital heart disease. Clinics in Perinatology, 43:173–185