The Effects of Teratogens on an Unborn Embryo

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Childbirth is nothing short of a miracle. The placenta—the organ connecting a developing fetus to the uterine wall and allowing for waste elimination, nutrient uptake and gas exchange via the mother's blood supply—filters most harmful substances that threaten an embryo, though some may still pass on to the fetus. These harmful substances, called “teratogens,” range from environmental chemicals to the passing of maternal diseases, and can negatively impact the normal developmental cycle of a fetus. The title “teratogen,” however, effectually refers to any substance or chemical exposure with the potential to cause birth defects in prenatal development. Exposure to teratogens can result in a broad spectrum of physiological and psychological issues in later life, including malformations of the body. (Malformations resulting from exposure to one of the most common teratogens—alcohol—can be observed notoriously in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or FAS, where patterns of mental and physical defects develop in association with high levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.) Though the toxicity of these teratogens is particularly damaging during the fourth through tenth weeks of gestation, teratogens can harm throughout the span of development in the womb. The manner in which a teratogen impacts the developing human may vary, though nicotine, caffine and medication consumption are all directly related to physical development. These are examples of habitual teratogens, each contributing to low birth weight and behavioral problems in adolescents. The level of influence of any given teratogen depends on many factors; the first, called the “threshold effect,” occurs when a relatively harmless teratogen in small quantity becomes toxic at a spe... ... middle of paper ... physical deformities, decreased birth weight and respiratory difficulties. The drugs can also carry adverse behavioral effects, including high pitched crying, abnormal sleep patterns and decreased attention. Studies have determined that some infants can rectify these behavioral inconsistencies, but that the change is dependent upon a responsive caregiver in a nurturing environment. The birth of a healthy child is a blessing. The prenatal period is susceptible in terms of embryonic development, and some exposures to teratogens can have adverse and lifelong affects on a baby. Although physical outcomes resulting from teratogen exposure cannot be reversed, with hope, some of the behavioral effects of Teratogens may have a decreased impact on the life of the child, though all mothers should pay special attention to the health of their child throughout their pregnancy.

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