Teratogens in Pregnancies

What are the things that can harm a baby during pregnancy?

What are Teratogens?

Stems from Greek words:

Terata which means monster,

Gennan which means to produce (Gabbe and Scott, 2007).

Teratogens are any environmental agent that causes damage during the prenatal period of development (Berk, 2010).

For example:

~Prescription Drugs and Nonprescription Drugs

~ Illegal Drugs




~Environmental Pollution

History of Teratogen Studies

Knowledge of teratogens began in the 1950's when only two drugs were discussed (Bengt, 2009). Antimetabolites and gestagens. Scientists and doctors believed everything else was fine as long as the drugs weren't abused. Then, in the 1960's, there were cases where children were born with limb reduction defects. They realized that thalidomide (a drug that helps sleeping problems) was the cause, and it opened up other tests for using drugs during pregnancy. Conclusions were made from women using drugs while pregnant, and from those conclusions they are tested on animals.

Sensitive Periods in Prenatal Development (Berk, 2010)

The effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is the most common Teratogen, and can cause the baby to be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) (Hoffman, 2011).

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most preventable cause of birth defects in the United States (Wedding et al., 2007). It occurs 1 in every 500 births. Every child that is born with FAS, ten more children suffer from related alcohol problems.

Not all fetuses are born with FAS, but it can cause (Hoffman, 2011):


~Physical and Mental Retardation

~Heart Defects


There could be other factors in FAS other than just alcohol such as:

~How long or how frequently the mother exposes the fetus to alcohol

~Different fetal and placental metabolism of ethanol/acetaldehyde

~Genetic factors

Effects of Drugs

Harmful Drugs (Gabbe, Scott, 2007):



~Coumarin derivates

~Valproic acid

~Folate antagonists

~Mixing of two drugs


~Low birth weight


~Spontaneous Abortion (Miscarriage)

~Perinatal Mortality (Stillborn)

Small Doses of cold medicine, antihistamines, antacids, and laxatives are usually not effective to the fetus (Gabbe, Scott, 2002).

Tip: Tell your doctor about the drugs you are taking. Even if you think it won't make a difference, it could change your baby's life!

Drug Addiction and Abuse in Pregnancy

Marijuana users who smoke one joint a day while pregnant on average have a delivery date that is one week later than planned (Woods, 1993). Once women realize they are pregnant they reduce their use of Marijuana from 24% to 7% from the beginning of the first trimester to the third. The women that use marijuana, along with women who drink alcohol during pregnancy and use other drugs are the ones with the largest risk factors and are usually the ones who are less likely to change their ways. Not many studies were made from drug users and abusers, and only recorded the use during pregnancy, not the result on the pregnancy outcomes. The results that were found conflict with each other and we are unsure of which to believe.

Cocaine users during pregnancy were reported to be older, single, divorced or separated and had less than a high school education. In a test on guinea pigs, scientists found out that cocaine use in a pregnant woman causes there to be high levels found in amniotic fluid, which surrounds the fetus until it is born.

Cocaine use can cause:

~Prematurity, and Intrauterine growth retardation

~smaller birth weight

~Skeletal defects

~Cerebral defects (seizures)

~Respiratory defects (SIDS)

~Cardiac defects

~Renal-urinary defects (born without kidney)

~Behavioral difficulties


Berk, L.E. (2010). Development Through the LIfespan (ed. 5). Boston, Mass. Pearson

Cooper, J.K., Gabbe, S.G., Scott, J.R. (2007). Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology: First Trimester Pregnancy Complications. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Wolters Kluwer/ Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Hoffman, J.D. (2011). Pregnancy and Alcohol Consumption. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Kalen, B. (2009). Drugs During Pregnancy. New York: Nova Biomedical Books.

Rayburn, W.F., Scott, J.R., Gabbe, S.G. (2002). Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology: Drugs and Pregnancy. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Wedding, D., Kohout, J., Mengel, M. B., Ohlemiller, M., Ulione, M., Cook, K., & ... Braddock, S. (2007). Psychologists' knowledge and attitudes about fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and alcohol use during pregnancy. Professional Psychology: Research And Practice, 38(2), 208-213. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.38.2.208

Källén, B. (2009). Drugs During Pregnancy. New York: Nova Biomedical Books.


Kallen, B. (2009). Drugs During Pregnancy. New York: Nova Biomedical Books. Källén, B. (2009). Drugs During Pregnancy. New York: Nova Biomedical Books.

Källén, B. (2009). Drugs During Pregnancy. New York: Nova Biomedical Books.