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Possible Effects of Maternal Behaviour on Foetal Development

Published on Sep 05, 2023


Nutrition is the major intrauterine environmental factor that alters expression of the fetal genome and may have lifelong consequences. Namely, alterations in fetal nutrition and endocrine status may result in developmental adaptations that permanently change the structure, physiology, and metabolism of the offspring, thereby predisposing individuals to metabolic, endocrine, and cardiovascular diseases in adult life. Animal studies show that both maternal under nutrition and over nutrition reduce placental-fetal blood flows and stunt fetal growth. Impaired placental syntheses of nitric oxide (a major vasodilator and angiogenesis factor) and polyamines (key regulators of DNA and protein synthesis) may provide a unified explanation for intrauterine growth retardation in response to the 2 extremes of nutritional problems with the same pregnancy outcome. There is growing evidence that maternal nutritional status can alter the epigenetic state of the fetal genome. Promoting optimal nutrition will not only ensure optimal fetal development, but will also reduce the risk of chronic diseases in adults.

Maternal nutrition plays a critical role in fetal growth and development. Although considerable effort has been directed towards defining nutrient requirements of animals over the past 30 years, suboptimal nutrition during gestation remains a significant problem for many animal species.Maternal under nutrition during gestation reduces placental and fetal growth of both domestic animals and humans. Available evidence suggests that fetal growth is most vulnerable to maternal dietary deficiencies of nutrients during the peri-implantation period and the period of rapid placental development. Under nutrition in pregnant women may result from low intake of dietary nutrients owing to either a limited supply of food or severe nausea and vomiting known as hyperemesis gravidarum.

Pregnant women may also be at increased risk of under nutrition because of early or closely-spaced pregnancies. Since pregnant teenage mothers are themselves growing, they compete with their own fetuses for nutrients, whereas short interpregnancy intervals result in maternal nutritional depletion at the outset of pregnancy. Low birth weights and preterm deliveries in adolescent pregnancies are more than twice as common as in adult pregnancies, and neonatal mortality in adolescent pregnancies is almost three times higher than for adult pregnancies. Further, placental insufficiency results in reduced transfer of nutrients from mother to fetus, thereby leading to fetal under nutrition and IUGR. Finally, due to competition for nutrients, multiple fetuses resulting from assisted reproductive technologies are often at risk of under nutrition and therefore fetal growth restriction. Thus, various nutritional and pathological conditions can result in IUGR.

Pregnant women are usually recommended to avoid soft cheeses, smoked fish, precooked meats and foods made with unpasteurized milk. These foods may contain a bacterium called Listeria. This bacterium does not usually cause people much harm, but even a mild infection in a pregnant woman may cause miscarriage

Alcohol Abuse

Drinking alcohol when you're pregnant can be very harmful to your baby. It can cause your baby to have a range of lifelong health conditions. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, preterm birth and stillbirth.

When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, so does your baby. The same amount of alcohol that is in your blood is also in your baby's blood. The alcohol in your blood quickly passes through the placenta and to your baby through the umbilical cord.

Although your body is able to manage alcohol in your blood, your baby's little body isn't. Your liver works hard to break down the alcohol in your blood. But your baby's liver is too small to do the same and alcohol can hurt your baby's development. That's why alcohol is much more harmful to your baby than to you during pregnancy.

Alcohol can lead your baby to have serious health conditions, called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). The most serious of these is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Fetal alcohol syndrome can seriously harm your baby's development, both mentally and physically.

Alcohol can also cause your baby to:

• Have birth defects (heart, brain and other organs)

• Vision or hearing problems

• Be born too soon (preterm)

• Be born at low birth weight

• Have intellectual disabilities

• Have learning and behavior problems

• Have sleeping and sucking problems

• Have speech and language delays

• Have behavioral problems

Use of Illegal and Illicit Drugs

It's possible that you may not have a serious or long-lasting problem after using drugs. But the same is not always true for a fetus. Drug-using mothers often give birth to "drug babies." These children have a host of developmental problems.

Studies show that using drugs -- legal or illegal -- during pregnancy has a direct impact on the fetus. If you smoke, drink alcohol, or ingest caffeine, so does the fetus. If you use marijuana or crystal meth, your fetus also feels the impact of these dangerous drugs. And if you are addicted to cocaine -- also called coke, snow, or blow -- you're not only putting your own life on the line, but you are risking the health of your unborn baby. The consequences of using cocaine include heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, and seizures. And these life-threatening health problems can also be passed to an unborn baby. Taking drugs during pregnancy also increases the chance of birth defects, premature babies, underweight babies, and stillborn births. Exposure to drugs such as marijuana -- also called weed, ganja, dope, or pot -- and alcohol before birth has been proven to cause behavior problems in early childhood. These drugs can also affect the child's memory and attentiveness. In addition, some findings show that babies born to women who use cocaine, alcohol, or tobacco when they are pregnant may have brain structure changes that persist into early adolescence.

While cocaine's effects are usually immediate, the effect it can have on a fetus may last a lifetime. Babies born to mothers who smoke crack cocaine during pregnancy -- so-called ''crack babies'' -- usually have their own set of physical and mental problems. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, exposure to cocaine in the womb can lead to subtle, yet significant, deficits later in children.

Cigarette Smoking

Smoking during pregnancy affects you and your baby’s before, during, and after your baby is born. The nicotine (the addictive substance in cigarettes), carbon monoxide, and numerous other poisons you inhale from a cigarette are carried through your bloodstream and go directly to your baby. Smoking while pregnant will:

• Lower the amount of oxygen available to you and your growing baby.

• Increase your baby's heart rate.

• Increase the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth.

• Increase the risk that your baby is born prematurely and/or born with low birth weight.

• Increase your baby's risk of developing respiratory (lung) problems.

• Increases risks of birth defects.

• Increases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The more cigarettes you smoke per day, the greater your baby's chances of developing these and other health problems. There is no "safe" level of smoking while pregnant.

Carbon monoxide combines with haemoglobin (Hb) in the fetus red blood cells. If the Hb is combined with carbon monoxide then it cannot combine with oxygen. So when a mother smokes, she reduces the amount of oxygen being carried in her own bloods and also the baby’s blood.

Nicotine reduces the diameter of the foetus’ blood vessels. This reduces the volume of blood that can flow through them. This, too, reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the foetus’ developing tissues. Nicotine also appears to affect the development of the nervous system.

Birth Control

Birth control methods include hormonal contraceptives, such as pills, shots and patches. Each method and brand has a unique mixture of estrogen and progestin and delivery molecules that can potentially affect a fetus. In most cases, taking birth control during the first four to eight weeks of a pregnancy will have no ill side-effects on a fetus. Regardless of any potential risk factors or lack thereof, stop taking birth control and consult a physician if pregnancy is likely.The possibility of birth defects concerns many women who become pregnant while taking birth control pills. However, there is no scientific evidence that taking birth control pills during early pregnancy affects the rate of birth defects. The risk of miscarriage due to birth control is possible; however, no statistical data in humans has been compiled Birth control affects the amount of estrogen and progestin in the body in order to regulate the menstrual cycle... For instance, reports that Yasmin has been placed in category X due to the fact that animal studies have shown that some of the chemicals in Yasmin have produced miscarriages. None of the statistics have been verified in humans.

Human Reproductive Anatomy and Physiology- Contraceptives

Effective public health programs, research, and policy relating to human sexuality, pregnancy, contraception, and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) depends upon knowledge of the structure(anatomy) and function (physiology) of the male and female reproductive systems.Human beings are sexual throughout life. Sexuality encompasses more than sexual behavior - it is not only the physical, but the mental and spiritual as well. Sexuality is a core component of personality and a fundamental part of human life. While the problems usually associated with sexual behavior are real and need to be addressed, human sexuality also has significant meaning and value in each individual's life.

Sixty-one percent of all women worldwide who are within the reproductive age (15-44 years old), are using methods of contraception (methods used to deliberately prevent pregnancy).No method of contraception is 100% effective other than complete abstinence from sexual intercourse. However, many methods exist that are close to 100% effective if used consistently and correctly. People frequently fail to use their method every time or to use it perfectly. Thus, even people using a method may face an unintended pregnancy. Factors contributing to unintended pregnancy are complex, and may involve the interplay of emotional, psychosocial, political, religious, cultural, and economic forces.Contraceptive effectiveness rates are estimates of the probability that a pregnancy will occur during the first year of method use. Perfect use refers to the effectiveness of a method when it is used consistently and correctly.

Contraceptive Methods

Typical use refers to the effectiveness of a method for the average person who does not always use the method correctly and consistently. Birth control is a regimen of one or more actions, devices, or medications followed in order to deliberately prevent or reduce the likelihood of a woman becoming pregnant. Methods and intentions typically termed birth control may be considered a pivotal ingredient to family planning. Mechanisms which are intended to reduce the likelihood of the fertilization of an ovum by a sperm may more specifically be referred to as contraception. Contraception differs from abortion in that the former prevents fertilization, while the latter terminates an already established pregnancy. Methods of birth control (e.g. the pill, IUDs, implants, patches, injections, vaginal ring and some others) which may prevent the implantation of an embryo if fertilization occurs are medically considered to be contraception.





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 Exploring Biology By, Ella Thea Smith

 NCERT Text Book

 Tell Me Why

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