Sugar and Spice and Every Not Nice
By Amanda Mannis and Sophia Premji
We’ve all seen pictures of ultrasounds where the fetus tends to resemble more of a creature from another planet than a human. Despite this, fetuses in the womb develop and experience the very basic, essential things humans do. Fetuses in the womb experience stimulation through the external stimuli of the five senses very early on. So from where do the stimuli originate? None other than external factors through the mother! This is why it is essential that mothers take care of themselves and don’t allow harmful external factors to interfere with the development of their baby.
Teratogens Hazardous to Prenatal Development
● According to Siegler, DeLoache, and Eisenberg (2011), “Teratogens are external agents that can cause damage or even death during prenatal development” (p 59).
Despite being legal, many over-the-counter (OTC) drugs have harmful side effects that can cause much damage to the fetus. This is why it is vital for women who are pregnant (or think they might be pregnant) to talk to her physician before taking any prescription drug.
Two popular legal “drugs” that have destructive side effects are cigarettes and alcohol. Cigarettes are harmful because they contain the toxin nicotine. Nicotine decreases the amount of oxygen one’s body is able to consume. Research done by Ernst, Moolchan, and Robinson (2009) shows that prenatal exposure to nicotine may lead to deregulation in neurodevelopment and indicate higher risk for psychiatric problems, including substance abuse. Nicotine may also cause retarded growth and increased risk of the fetus developing SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Despite the knowledge of the harmful effects of cigarettes, about thirteen percent of women continue to smoke during pregnancy (Siegler, DeLoache, and Eisenberg, 2011).
Alcohol is one of the most common teratogens during pregnancy. According to the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, eighteen percent of women drink alcohol during early pregnancy (2011, 2012). [See Chart 1]
When a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol in her blood crosses with the placenta, a blood vessel rich organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall to allow nutrient uptake. Repeated abuse of drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in the fetus. FAS can cause facial deformities, retardation, attention problems, and hyperactivity (Siegler, DeLoache, and Eisenberg, 2011). [See Figure 2]
Approximately four percent of women in the United States use illegal drugs while pregnant (DHHS, 2006). Some of these illegal drugs include cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and marijuana. Exposure to cocaine can cause growth retardation and premature birth in the fetus (Hawley & Disney 1992; Singer et al., 2002), while marijuana can affect memory and visual skills (Fried & Smith, 2001; Mereu et al. 2003). Mothers should not only stay away from harmful drugs while not pregnant, but even more so while they are impregnated.
Although humans are naturally exposed to toxins such as the plastic in cups one drinks from or factories around homes, these pollutants can still have an effect on prenatal development. In a study in California, researchers evaluated the effect of air pollution on the occurrence of birth defects ascertained by the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program in neonates and fetuses delivered in 1987–1993. The results found that there was a sensitive period where exposure to these pollutants caused birth defects in these fetuses (Ritz et., al. 2001). However, one cannot all avoid pollutants in the earth’s atmosphere.
Environmental influences in the workplace are another hazard imposed on fetuses. Many women have jobs that force them to be in contact with harmful chemicals, around loud noises, etc. Although this might have been a concern in past decades, today workplaces usually offer a 6-8 week maternity leave.
Maternal Hazards to Prenatal Development
It is important for women to be cognizant of how the age at which they are having their child will impact their pregnancy. Infants born to mothers who are aged fifteen or younger are three to four times more likely to die before their first birthday. On the other hand, infants born to older mothers are likely to have a greater risk for abnormalities and birth complications (Siegler, DeLoache, and Eisenberg, 2011). According to a study done to test the impact of advance maternal on fetuses, it was determined that women above the age of forty-five should take special precautions due to the increased risk of complications for their fetuses. Infants born to mothers of this age group are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic hypertension, hypothyroidism, karotype abnormalities, and gestational diabetes (Dildy et al., 1996).
It is also important for soon-to-be mothers to remember the importance of remaining healthy during their pregnancies! Your fetus will be entirely dependent on you to provide all the necessary nutrients, and it is important for your growing baby to get those nutrients! Malnutrition during pregnancy can have a dramatic on the infant’s brain development; infants who have been malnourished while in the womb are more likely to have smaller brains and are more unresponsive and irritable (Siegler, DeLoache, and Eisenberg, 2011). A study done in 2003 gave proof of the negative outcomes that result from under-nutrition of mothers due to the fact that fetuses do not simply take necessary nutrients from its mother, but rather depend on their mothers to provide a steady supply of nutrients. The study showed that an inadequate intake of essential nutrients might compromise the health of the fetus, the mother, or both (King, 2003).
It is essential that all mothers ensure that they are up-to-date on all of their vaccines before becoming pregnant. Any disease contracted during the development of the fetus can lead to devastating developmental issues for the fetus, including deformations and mental retardation. Given the prevalence of STDs, women should ensure that they are tested due to the dangers they can impose on the developing fetus. Often times the infection from an STD can be passed on to the infant in the womb, during birth, or through breast milk after birth (Siegler, DeLoache, and Eisenberg, 2011). A study done on pregnant adolescents living in inner-city areas showed six major sexually transmitted diseases have severe and negative consequences on fetal development. Especially since the prevalence of STDs is rising among the younger population, it is important that mothers-to-be take precautions to ensure that they are visiting their doctors regularly and are being checked for diseases that they could potentially pass on to their infant (Hardy et al., 1984)
Maternal emotional state:
It has been proven that a mother’s emotional state will impact her fetus. A recent study has shown that infants born to mothers who were highly distressed during their pregnancy had more behavioral problems, higher levels of inattention, and more emotional problems. It is important that mothers remain positive and healthy during their pregnancies in order to ensure their children will not develop any behavioral issues later on (Siegler, DeLoache, and Eisenberg, 2011). For many mothers it is easy to forget to remain relaxed during pregnancy especially in making sure that
everything is prepared for when your newborn child arrives! However, it is absolutely essential for mothers to be calm throughout their pregnancy so as to prevent later issues that could have been completely avoided.
As a soon-to-be mother it is important to remember that you are providing your fetus with all the stimuli that they will experience during your pregnancy. It is important to be mindful of dangers that you can impose on your fetus with hazardous legal and illegal drugs, pollutants, and occupational hazards. Furthermore, it is also important for mothers to remain cognizant of underlying hazards that their fetus is subject to such as maternal age, nutrition, disease, and emotional state. As long as you stay happy, healthy, and safe during your pregnancy, you will be well on your way to motherhood in nine short months!
18 Percent of Pregnant Women Drink Alcohol during Early Pregnancy. (2013, September 10). . Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/spotlight/spot123-pregnancy-alcohol-2013.pdf
Dildy, G. A., Jackson, M. G., Fowers, G. K., Oshiro, B. T., Varner, M. W., & Clark, S. L. (1996). Very advanced maternal age: Pregnancy after age 45. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology,175, 668-674.
Hardy, P. H., Nell, E. E., Spence, M. R., Hardy, J. B., Graham, D. A., & Rosenbaum, R. C. (1984). Prevalence of Six Sexually Transmitted Disease Agents Among Pregnant Inner-City Adolescents and Pregnancy Outcome .The Lancelet, , 333-337.
King, J. C. (2003). The Risk of Maternal Nutritional Depletion and Poor Outcomes Increases in Early or Closely Spaced Pregnancies. The Journal of Nutrition, 1732-1736.
Ritz, B., Yu, F., Fruin, S., Chapa, G., Shaw, G., & Harris, J. (2001). Ambient Air Pollution and Risk of Birth Defects in Southern California. American Journal of Epidemiology, 155, 17-25.
Robinson, M. L., Moolchan, E., & Ernst, M. (2009). Behavioral And Neural Consequences Of Prenatal Exposure To Nicotine. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 630-641.
Siegler, R. S., DeLoache, J. S., & Eisenberg, N. (2011). How children develop (3rd ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.