Environmental Influences on Prenatal Development

Environmental Influences on Prenatal Development
The prenatal period is a very important stage in human development. In as much as this is an astonishing period of nine months, there are also many environmental vulnerabilities that can be associated with it (Zerucha, 2004). Fortunate enough, with the recent developments in various levels technology more so in prenatal care, these hazards can be significantly lessened. In as much there are many environmental dangers and other effects, most of the babies born in the world are born healthy (Berk, 2012). This case study seeks to investigate environmental influences on prenatal development.

Environmental Influences on Prenatal Development

In the most recent research in prenatal developments, scientists have come to understand many conditions and substances which can increase the risk of prenatal abnormalities as well as other problems. In fact, scientists have even come up with a terminology, “teratogens” when referring to these potentially harmful conditions and other substances in prenatal development (Jirasek, 2001). These teratogens can cause prenatal abnormalities and other conditions. They can range from; missing ribs during birth, low-birth weight to even brain damage (Berk, 2012). Therefore, this case study seeks to address environmental factors that could lead to such abnormalities, posing a huge risk to the fetus during development. This case study discusses three environmental factors that influence fetus development. They include: disease, medications and psychoactive drugs.


There are many diseases that could reach a fetus during development, and prevent it from growing to a healthy baby (Greenwood, 2010). These diseases may cause injury to a growing fetus, making it develop some unusual characteristics while still in the mother’s womb, or prevent it from growing to the right stages. There are numerous discoveries that have been made by medical practitioners during prenatal development. A good example is the fact that they discovered that a fetus may be born blind, with brain damages or even with heart abnormalities if a mother contracts rubella in her early pregnancy stages (Kail, 2012). In fact, research shows that there was rubella (also referred to as the German measles) in 1960s, leading to the births of 20,000 United States children, who were born with different impairments. These impairments were connected with the disease as 98 percent of mothers who contracted it gave birth to impaired infants. However, ever since then scientists developed vaccines for the disease, cases of impairments from rubella have significantly reduced. Therefore, environmental factors such as disease can influence prenatal development; although with controlled immunizations they can be lessened.


Medication also belongs in the category of environmental factors that influence prenatal development. This is because; the chemical composition from medication that a parent may take in can injure a fetus, through the placenta (Ormrod, 2012). In the early times, many scientists believed that the placenta was a barrier that protected the growing fetus from toxins, and other chemicals that may be transported from the mother. However, advance research shows that a mother and the fetus share the same blood as well as many other materials. In fact, the fetus feeds on the mother through the placenta for development. Therefore, any substance that may be introduced in the mother’s body will also find its way to the fetus (Jirasek, 2001). In fact, research shows that out of the assumption that the placenta is a barrier; more than 10,000 United States babies were affected. This was after their mothers were recommended to use a drug which was referred to as thalidomide in the 1960s and many children were born without arms, legs and others even lacked their ears (Greenwood, 2010). These defects made the doctors as well as other scientists realize that the placenta was not a barrier; it was just a normal link between the mother and the baby, which was involved in transportation of material between the two. Today’s doctors have done more research on the kind of medication to give to expectant mothers, more so depending on their chemical content. They have even gone ahead to advice against taking un-prescribed medicine, more so during prenatal development may it be anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, bromides, tetracycline and many other hormonal drugs.

Therefore, from the above information one shows that it is essentially important for expectant mothers to avoid any medication not prescribed by a doctor (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2013). On top of that, health care bodies all over the world recommend that drug marketers issue warnings more so on drugs that may affect pregnant women. Therefore, it has become a normal trend even on Television to issue a warning more so on new drugs that may affect pregnant mothers during adverts. This is because some drugs can affect fetus from as early as the first week to the second week of conception (Zerucha, 2004). Some drugs warnings’ even state that women should stop taking particular drugs once they realize they are pregnant. With the recent developments in the field of prenatal health, soon-to-be-mothers and doctors have become aware of what to avoid during particular times and what not to. This has also helped to reduce medicine related fetus defects than in the previous decades

Psychoactive drugs

Psychoactive drugs such as cocaine, alcohol, heroin, tobacco and other inhalants still remain major causes of many prenatal damages (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2013). This is because, all of these psychoactive drugs have many negative effects on fetus developments, and they can lead to many devastating effects. These effects may include; impaired brain development, low-birth weight and even premature birth. Prenatal effects caused by these psychoactive drugs can lead to both long –term and short-term deficits. These drugs affect a fetus in the uterus to a level that some of them may even inhibit signs brought about by drug withdrawal after birth. These effects may include; crying, difficulty in sleeping, erratic eating and even startling.

After prenatal development, these children may inhibit other problems in their early stages of life including; poor self-control, inability to pay attention, increased irritability among many other basic developmental delays (Kail, 2012). Other drugs like tobacco cause specific health problems to a child’s lie, even if expose to drugs may have happened when they were still in the uterus. A good example would be like tobacco, which causes low-birth weight and other abnormalities like limbs and urinary tract malformations. On top of that, a drug like alcohol also causes other malformations like; a narrow upper lip, a flattened nose, a wider spacing between the two eyes and even a smaller head of an individual that the usual common size (Kail 2012).  All of the above are characteristics that are brought about by alcohol, causing a condition referred to as fetal alcohol syndrome. This syndrome can also lead into other very malformations like; behavioral problems, impaired physical growth, intellectual impairments and even inhibit different learning disabilities. Therefore, doctors and other health care experts are in the frontline urging mothers to keep away from vices that may lead to fetal malformations (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2013). This is so that they can give birth to healthy babies who would not develop other major malformations in the future, becoming reliable members in the society.

Decreasing Environmental Dangers Affecting Prenatal Development

From the above research, it is evident that there are many environmental dangers that can hurt a fetus while still in the womb of a mother. These environmental dangers can both be introduced in the body of a mother voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary is when a mother contracts a disease, and voluntary when a mother introduces harmful substances in her body knowingly. However, today’s mothers-to-be are lucky then the ones who lived a few decades before them this is because there have been numerous developments in the technology and other scientific inventions that are health care relate (Ormrod, 2012). Therefore, these environmental dangers can be lessened, or even avoided entirely.

One of the most significant factors in reducing prenatal environmental factors is increased awareness. This is more so in the field of medications, drugs, effects of disease on the fetus and many other factors that affect prenatal development. As a result, mothers-to-be are now better armed with information on how to remain substances free until they deliver their babies (Berk, 2012). It is also essentially important to note that not all environmental factors that are potentially capable of injuring a fetus do that. On the contrary; there are factors that determine whether such hazards would affect a baby or not. These factors include; during of an exposure to a hazard, the timing of the exposure and also on any other genetic vulnerabilities present.

For instance, the specific time that a fetus is exposed to a hazard determines a lot on the harm that would emanate from it in the ultimate outcome. This is more so because the prenatal period is also a period of significant vulnerabilities. For instance, scientific research shows that in the first eight week of conception, the embryo is significantly vulnerable to teratogens (Kail, 2012). However, even other stages of prenatal development are also crucial as there are many other injuries that can occur throughout the pregnancy (Jirasek, 2001). For instance, brain and eye damages to a fetus can even occur up to the last weeks of pregnancy. Therefore, mothers are cautioned to be extremely cautious and keep away from these environmental factors until they safely deliver their babies.

In conclusion, there are many environmental influences in prenatal development. However, even if some of them cannot be done away with entirely, at least they can be minimized. This can be through abstaining from harmful medications, drugs, alcohol and other hazardous substances. On top of that, other practices such as social support, postnatal care, and proper health care can play a significant role in curbing environmental factors that may negatively affect fetus development.


Berk, L. E. (2012). Infants, children, and adolescents. Boston: Pearson /Allyn & Bacon.

Greenwood, P. L. (2010). Managing the prenatal environment to enhance livestock productivity. Dordrecht: Springer.

Jirásek, J. E. (2001). An atlas of the human embryo and fetus: A photographic review of human prenatal development. New York: Parthenon Pub. Group.

KAIL, R. O. B. E. R. T. V. (2012). Human development: A life-span view. s.l.: Cengage learning custom p.

Kail, R. V., & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2013). Human development: A life-span view. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Ormrod, J. E. (2012). Human learning. Boston: Prentice Hall.

Zerucha, T. (2004). Human development. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers.

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