Prenatal abuse

Many children are physically and mentally harmed prior to birth by the behavior of the mother. Factors that negatively influence the development of the fetus are:

  • Smoking and nicotine: When a mother smokes during pregnancy the fetus is exposed to nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide. Nicotine results in less blood flow to the fetus because it constricts the blood vessels. Carbon monoxide reduces the oxygen flow to the fetus. The reduction of blood and oxygen flow results in stillbirth, low birth weight, and ectopic pregnancy. There is an increased risk of sudden death syndrome (SIDS) in infants. Nicotine also increases the risk for miscarriages and premature births or infant mortality. There is a link between smoking during pregnancy and childhood asthma.

  • Alcohol: Alcohol use leads to disruptions of the fetus's brain development, interferes with the fetus's cell development and organization, and affects the maturation of the central nervous system. Alcohol use can lead to heart and other major organ defects, such as small brain, which will affect the fetus's learning behaviors. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause behavioral problems in a child, mental problems or retardation and facial abnormalities - meaning smaller eyes, thin upper lip, and little groove between the nose and lips. Use can also increase the risk of miscarriages and stillbirths, or low birth weight. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a developmental disorder that is a consequence of too much alcohol intake by the mother during pregnancy. Children with FAS have a variety of distinctive facial features, brain abnormalities, and cognitive deficits.

  • Illicit Drugs: Eleven percent of fetuses are exposed to illicit drug use during pregnancy. When the mother uses drugs the drug crosses over to the fetus through the placenta. Using drugs (narcotics), increases the risk of birth defects, low birth weight, and a higher rate of death in infants or stillbirths. Drug use will influence extreme irritability, crying, and risk for SIDS once the fetus is born. The chemicals in drugs can cause an addiction in the babies once they are born. Marijuana will slow the fetal growth rate and can result in premature delivery. It can also lead to low birth weight, a shortened gestational period and complications in delivery. Heroin will cause interrupted fetal development, stillbirths, and can lead to numerous birth defects. Heroin can also result in premature delivery, creates a higher risk of miscarriages, result in facial abnormalities and head size, and create gastrointestinal abnormalities in the fetus. There is an increased risk for SIDS, dysfunction in the central nervous system, and neurological dysfunctions including tremors, sleep problems, and seizures. The fetus is also put at a great risk for low birth weight and respiratory problems. Cocaine use results in a smaller brain, which results in learning disabilities for the fetus. Cocaine puts the fetus at a higher risk of being stillborn or premature. Cocaine use also results in low birthweight, damage to the central nervous system, and motor dysfunction.
  • Nutrition: Adequate nutrition is needed for a healthy fetus. A lack of iron results in anemia in the fetus, the lack of calcium can result in poor bone and teeth formation, and the lack of protein can lead to a smaller fetus and mental retardation.
  • Environmental toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins in pregnancy leads to higher rates of miscarriage, sterility, and birth defects. Toxins include fetal exposure to lead, mercury, and ethanol or hazardous environments.

Click here to learn what you can do to stop prenatal abuse.