The environment can have an important influence on development, and this also includes the prenatal period. The growth that happens during the nine months of prenatal development is nothing short of astonishing, but this period is also a time of great vulnerability. Fortunately, the effects of many of these hazards can be greatly lessened or even avoided entirely. While dangers do exist, the vast majority of babies are born healthy.
Today, researchers understand a greater deal about teratogens, a term used to describe the broad range of conditions and substances that can increase the risk of prenatal problems and abnormalities.1 Teratogens can cause a wide range of problems from low birth-weight to brain damage to missing limbs. In order to minimize and avoid these dangers, it is essential to understand what poses a risk to the fetus and how such dangers can affect development.
Diseases That Can Impact Prenatal Development
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Many diseases are capable of injuring a growing fetus. For example, doctors discovered that when a mother contracts rubella (also known as the German measles) early in her pregnancy, her child might suffer blindness, heart abnormalities, and brain damage as a result.2
During the 1960s, a rubella epidemic led to nearly 20,000 infants in the United States being born with impairments linked to the disease. Since then, immunizations have dramatically decreased the incidence of rubella and lowered the number of children affected by the illness. However, there are new measles outbreaks due to parents who do not immunize their children.
Impact of Medications on Prenatal Development
In the past, doctors believed that the placenta served as a barrier to protect the growing fetus against toxins. During the 1960s, a number of pregnant women were prescribed the drug thalidomide which caused more than 10,000 infants to be born missing legs, arms, or ears. The birth defects caused by the drug made the dangers of certain medications very clear.3
Today, doctors recognize the teratogenic effects of many medicinal drugs including anticonvulsants, tetracycline, anticoagulants, bromides, and most hormones.
Because of the potential dangers, it is important for pregnant women to avoid any medications that have not been specifically recommended by their doctor. You have also probably noticed that most television ads for new medications include some type of statement warning that women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should avoid taking the drug.
Some medications can affect the fetus as 10 to 14 days after conception. For these, it is essential to cease taking the medication before you become pregnant.
Fortunately, because doctors and mothers-to-be are far more aware of the potential dangers, the rates of medication-linked birth defects have been reduced considerably over the past few decades.
Psychoactive Substances and Prenatal Development
Prenatal damage caused by psychoactive drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, inhalants, and tobacco is still far too common. All psychoactive drugs have a deleterious effect on prenatal development leading to problems including low birth-weight, premature birth, and impaired brain development. The effects of such drug use can lead to both short-term and long-term deficits.4
Babies exposed to psychoactive drugs in-utero may show signs of drug withdrawal after birth, such as crying, startling, difficulty sleeping, and erratic eating. As they continue to develop and grow, these children may face learning problems such as an inability to pay attention, poor self-control, increased irritability, or even major developmental delays.
What impact can these psychoactive substances have on development?
Tobacco use can result in low birth-weight as well as an increased risk of abnormalities such as urinary tract and limb malformations.
Alcohol use during pregnancy causes fetal alcohol syndrome which is characterized by facial abnormalities including a smaller than average head size, a flattened nose, wide spacing between the eyes, and a narrow upper lip. Fetal alcohol syndrome also results in intellectual impairments, impaired physical growth, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems.
How to Minimize Environmental Dangers
Fortunately, the effects of many environmental dangers can be minimized or even avoided entirely. Thanks to increased awareness of the effects of diseases, medications, and psychoactive substances, mothers are able to better ensure that they are healthy and free of harmful substances by the time they conceive a child.
While environmental dangers pose a definite risk to the growing fetus, they do not always cause harm. The impact of such hazards involves the interaction of a number of factors, including the timing of the exposure, the duration of the exposure, and possible genetic vulnerabilities that may be present.
The specific time of when the growing organism is exposed to the danger can play a major role in the ultimate outcome. Throughout prenatal development, there are times of greater susceptibility known as critical periods. For example, an embryo is most vulnerable to teratogens in the first eight weeks after conception. However, damage to major areas of the body including the brain and eyes can also occur during the later weeks of pregnancy.
In addition to abstaining from drugs, alcohol, medications, and other substances, proper medical care, social support, and postnatal care can all play an important role in minimizing the dangers of environmental toxins.
Environmental Influences on Prenatal Development
There are three types of environmental influences on prenatal development:
Teratogens â€“ substances taken or absorbed by the mother during pregnancy that produce fetal deformities.
Nutrition â€“ the impact of abundance or lack of sufficient supply.
Stress â€“ the impact of stress hormones on an infant’s neuroendocrine system.
Using the assigned readings for this unit and other professional literature, describe and discuss one of these environmental influences on prenatal development.
ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE CLASS
Discussion Questions (DQ)
Initial responses to the DQ should address all components of the questions asked, include a minimum of one scholarly source, and be at least 250 words.
Successful responses are substantive (i.e., add something new to the discussion, engage others in the discussion, well-developed idea) and include at least one scholarly source.
One or two sentence responses, simple statements of agreement or “good post,” and responses that are off-topic will not count as substantive. Substantive responses should be at least 150 words.
I encourage you to incorporate the readings from the week (as applicable) into your responses.
Your initial responses to the mandatory DQ do not count toward participation and are graded separately.
In addition to the DQ responses, you must post at least one reply to peers (or me) on three separate days, for a total of three replies.
Participation posts do not require a scholarly source/citation (unless you cite someone else’s work).
Part of your weekly participation includes viewing the weekly announcement and attesting to watching it in the comments. These announcements are made to ensure you understand everything that is due during the week.
APA Format and Writing Quality
Familiarize yourself with APA format and practice using it correctly. It is used for most writing assignments for your degree. Visit the Writing Center in the Student Success Center, under the Resources tab in LoudCloud for APA paper templates, citation examples, tips, etc. Points will be deducted for poor use of APA format or absence of APA format (if required).
Cite all sources of information! When in doubt, cite the source. Paraphrasing also requires a citation.
I highly recommend using the APA Publication Manual, 6th edition.
Use of Direct Quotes
I discourage overutilization of direct quotes in DQs and assignments at the Masters’ level and deduct points accordingly.
As Masters’ level students, it is important that you be able to critically analyze and interpret information from journal articles and other resources. Simply restating someone else’s words does not demonstrate an understanding of the content or critical analysis of the content.
It is best to paraphrase content and cite your source.
For assignments that need to be submitted to LopesWrite, please be sure you have received your report and Similarity Index (SI) percentage BEFORE you do a “final submit” to me.
Once you have received your report, please review it. This report will show you grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors that can easily be fixed. Take the extra few minutes to review instead of getting counted off for these mistakes.
Review your similarities. Did you forget to cite something? Did you not paraphrase well enough? Is your paper made up of someone else’s thoughts more than your own?
Visit the Writing Center in the Student Success Center, under the Resources tab in LoudCloud for tips on improving your paper and SI score.
The university’s policy on late assignments is 10% penalty PER DAY LATE. This also applies to late DQ replies.
Please communicate with me if you anticipate having to submit an assignment late. I am happy to be flexible, with advance notice. We may be able to work out an extension based on extenuating circumstances.
If you do not communicate with me before submitting an assignment late, the GCU late policy will be in effect.
I do not accept assignments that are two or more weeks late unless we have worked out an extension.
As per policy, no assignments are accepted after the last day of class. Any assignment submitted after midnight on the last day of class will not be accepted for grading.
Communication is so very important. There are multiple ways to communicate with me:
Questions to Instructor Forum: This is a great place to ask course content or assignment questions. If you have a question, there is a good chance one of your peers does as well. This is a public forum for the class.
Individual Forum: This is a private forum to ask me questions or send me messages. This will be checked at least once every 24 hours.