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Teratogens & Factors that Influence Prenatal Development

What types of factors other than teratogens can influence prenatal development? This library solution describes how malnutrition, chronic stress, and indirect teratogens such as air pollutants and hydrocarbons found in gasoline can affect prenatal development.

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Prenatal influences such as malnutrition, stress, and teratogens can affect a growing embryo or fetus. However, before going into further detail, the difference between an embryo and a fetus will be explained. An embryo is an unborn baby during the first eight weeks after conception. At the beginning of the ninth week, an embryo is called a fetus. For the remainder of this post, fetus will be used to refer to an unborn baby.

Malnutrition can lead to low birth weight, heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), and type 2 diabetes. Prenatal studies indicate that infants who weigh less than 5 pounds at birth have a high risk of suffering from heart disease or stroke (Berk, 2008; Godfrey & Barker, 2000). It is proposed that the circulatory system of a malnourished fetus forces most of its blood to the brain, which means that vital organs may not be supplied with the proper amount of oxygen and nutrients. As a result, organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys, which are involved in stabilizing blood pressure and cholesterol, may be smaller than normal. The pancreas, which is responsible for the production of insulin, may also become damaged. Organs that are weak or too small to function properly can lead to heart disease or diabetes later in life (Wu, Fuller, Cudd, Meininger, & Spencer, 2004).

In addition to ...

Solution Summary

There are a number of factors in addition to currently known teratogens (e.g., drugs, alcohol, caffeine), that are proving to be harmful for a growing embryo or fetus. This solution describes the detrimental effects of malnutrition, chronic stress or depression, and exposure to environmental toxins during pregnancy.