University of Mount Olive
There are many things you have to worry about during a pregnancy. The most important one would be paying attention to the substances that goes inside of the body. Everything that goes inside of a pregnant mother is also being distributed to her unborn child. Having that kind of awareness can be what makes or breaks the health of the mother as well as the unborn child. Using drugs, alcohol, or tobacco products during pregnancy exposes not only the woman carrying the baby, but the child’s development and well-being. The substances that mother consume or apply on skin can cause harm to the unborn child. These acts of substance abuse can potentially be deadly and even have long-term effects on the child exposed.
Teratogens are the use of any substance that crosses the placenta and harms the fetus (Belsky, 2016, p.46). These are categorized by alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, environmental chemicals, and diseases; even the hormones that pregnant women produce can become teratogens when they are generated at high levels. The production or use of these teratogens can have as much detrimental effects to the mother as well as the baby. Teratogens typically exert their damage during the sensitive period—the timeframe when a particular organ or system is coming “on line.” (Belsky, 2016, p.46). This means that during any moment of implantation and the embryonic stage of birth is when a teratogen has an all or nothing effect to the developing fetus. This period is rather critical for brain growth and development because its ranging from 3 to 16 weeks (Chung, n.d.). There aren’t many problems that can come with beginning teratogens in the mist of those stages, its either the child continues to grow and has birth defects or the child dies resulting in a miscarriage.
Roughly 1 in 10 pregnancies end in a first trimester fetal loss. (Belsky, 2016, p.43). Many of the teratogens have the same effects of others while some are more detrimental to the developing child. The most common to deal with is smoking and alcohol abuse because they are viewed as less harmful, yet these may be the most harmful substances. Cigarette smoking is linked with fetal growth restriction, premature birth and even stillbirth. Smoking may also cause problems with the development of the brain, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and low birth weight. Babies exposed to cigarette smoke during pregnancy may also be born with an increased startle reflex, tremor, or other problems caused by smoking (Caccia, 2009). These can also be the effects of a mother who has been exposed by second-hand smoking. The effects of cigarette smoke on the unborn baby increase with how much the mother smokes, as well as the length of time that she has been smoking (Caccia, 2009). Although many mothers smoke during pregnancy, the most popular teratogen is alcohol. Even rational amounts of alcohol in pregnancy can cause developmental problems in the unborn baby. Abnormalities caused by alcohol in pregnant women include deformities of the face, arms, legs, heart conditions, intellectual disability and fetal growth restriction (Caccia, 2009). However, these conditions are not very common. Serious cases of the abuse of alcohol can result in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder which causes the children born to these women who drink more heavily during their pregnancy to have thinking, remembering and behavioral issues. Other teratogens have similar qualities as smoking and drinking but with these being the most common knowing the dangers behind them can end how commonly used they are during pregnancy.
Recognition of human teratogens offers the opportunity to prevent exposure at critical periods of development and prevent certain types of inborn malformations. Whether it’s coming from the environment or the mothers own selfish doings, knowing the developmental issues that are associated with drinking, drugs, or diseases can guide the mothers to do the right thing for themselves and the baby.
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