Prenatal Threats

I always tell my students in my Human Growth and Development classes that one of the most important things we do as parents is to help build healthy baby brains. This begins even before your baby is conceived!  It’s never too early to build a better brain!


If you are planning to have a baby anytime soon, be sure to start preparing your mind and body for this life-changing endeavor. Try to establish a healthy diet and exercise routine and notify your medical doctor about your plans for starting a family. 

Most importantly, you will want to evaluate your lifestyle and do your best to prevent ANY exposure to teratogens (harmful environmental agents) for your little one.

Did you know that there are MANY agents that can be harmful to a developing fetus?

Here are just a few things that can be harmful to our baby’s development and their brains.

  1. Drugs and Alcohol
  2. Mother’s Illnesses
  3. Mother’s Stress Levels
  4. Mother’s Nutrition
  5. Radiation Exposure


1:  Drugs and Alcohol

Ask your doctor about ANY drugs you are taking and their possible effects on your developing baby. Research everything you are taking!  Even the prescription drugs that may be deemed safe today, can be found harmful tomorrow.

Remember that just a few years ago, doctors were telling mothers that it was safe to take their anti-depressants like Prozac and Zoloft.  Now, you’ve surely noticed the many ads showing that these drugs have been linked to autism, cleft lip & palate and many other birth defects.  This points us to the conclusion that anything we are consuming, or are exposed to,  could potentially be harmful to our baby.

A new mommy-to-be must try her best to eliminate ALL harmful agents such as Alcohol, which can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Smoking, which can lead to low-birth-weight babies and premature deliveries.


One researcher has linked even mild alcohol consumption to learning disabilities, mental retardation, Attention Deficit Disorder, and even violence and aggression!   Just last year, an article titled “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders” in the November 2015 issue of Pediatrics, told us that NO amount of alcohol should be considered safe to drink during any trimester of pregnancy.

That’s right!!!  NO Alcohol consumption is safe for your baby at any point during development.  Your pregnancy lasts a short nine months, but the consequences of your actions could last a lifetime!

The best rule of thumb is to avoid anything that you wouldn’t give an infant! (But always check with your doctor for specific guidelines and limitations)

Read more about harmful teratogens.


2:  Mother’s Illnesses

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There are many infections such as Rubella, chicken pox, urinary tract infections and many sexually transmissible infections such as Chlamydia, Syphilis, HIV, Herpes, and now the Zika Virus, that can all be harmful to our developing bundles of joy. 

The list of infections is long and their effects on the baby are quite varied.  It is important to notify your doctor if you are sick or may have been exposed to any contagious diseases.


3:  Mother’s Stress Levels  

Stress is evil! When we stress out, our brain triggers the release of various stress hormones that can be harmful to our bodies.  When a pregnant woman stresses out, those hormones can also be dangerous to her unborn child.  Obviously, reducing your stress is easier said than done! 

Do your best to eliminate all unnecessary stressors.  This may mean that you have to DELEGATE more chores to other family members at home.  It might also involve talking to your boss about sharing some of your more stressful job duties or getting additional help from coworkers. 


If, your situation is EXTREMELY stressful, then you will need to make some drastic changes, or risk exposing your baby to the harmful effects of our own body’s stress hormones. 

To all the FATHERS out there:  It’s hard for a working pregnant mom to relax and enjoy her pregnancy so be sure to HELP HER OUT!  Research still shows that working women report doing almost 80% of the household chores, so even in 2016, women are still pulling double days!  Instead of a pulling a double day, dads should be help her by pulling all your forces together and get the teamwork going with all members in your household.  Your baby’s health depends on it!


4:  Mother’s Nutrition


Being malnourished during pregnancy can have many detrimental effects on a tiny embryo! Be sure to get adequate prenatal care and prenatal vitamins right from the get-go. 

Your baby’s brain, heart and other critical organs begin to form as early as two to three weeks from conception! That’s why this stage is called “ORGANOGENESIS.”  It’s your job to provide adequate nutrients during this critical period and throughout your baby’s development.  

Baby brains need plenty of proteins and folic acid to build the    100 billion neurons that they will have upon birth. Calcium is important for all those bones that are forming, so be sure to get plenty of it!  Also watch your sodium intake as it’s not good for you or the baby.  

Also, be sure to get the right kinds of fats. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a healthy fat! 

If you like fish (low-mercury), avocados, olive oil, flax seeds, and my personal favorite, NUTS, then you’ll be happy as a clam!  Healthy fats build better brain cells. Be sure to reduce the Bad Fats as fat cells begin depositing even before birth on both the baby and the momma!  And boy is it hard to lose that stubborn baby-weight!


5:  Radiation


Pregnant mothers can be exposed to many forms of radiation, both in a medical setting and at work. All forms of radiation can be harmful to a developing fetus. 

If you are injured and need emergency treatment, be sure to tell all medical workers that you are pregnant.  If you go in to have your teeth cleaned, be sure to notify all of the staff, dentist included. 

If you have any possible radiation exposure on the job, be sure to notify your employer before getting pregnant and immediately upon confirmation so that they can discuss alternative duties for you and take all the proper safety precautions to keep your unborn baby safe. 

Employers have many legal options to reduce occupational exposure for pregnant women, but if you don’t feel your baby’s safety has been adequately addressed, be sure to get a written recommendation from your doctor to present to your employer.  

This may be just what your employer needs to get their creative juices flowing and offer you some safer alternatives that keep your baby’s health on the forefront.


Leave comments, feedback or success stories below!



  1. When you started to say about making a healthy baby brain even before your baby is conceived I raised my eyebrows. But then you go on about drinking, drugs and smoking, which is all quite obvious. But all these need t be followed. ‘You’ are responsible for bringing someone into this world so why not try for a healthy child.

    • Hi Owain! I’m glad they sound obvious to you, but you would be surprised how many women drink and smoke during their pregnancies. Also, many women continue their life as usual and don’t watch for the hidden teratogens like stress and anxiety. Although some birth defects are completely out of our hands, we should make an effort to prevent the ones we can. The sad thing about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is that it is the most common cause for mental retardation and it is 100% preventable. Yes! let’s all make our best efforts to bring a healthy child into the world.

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