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PregnancyBaby & Toddler

What is Teratogen?

If exposed to a developing embryo or fetus, teratogens can cause congenital disabilities or abnormalities. Teratogen exposure can occur during pregnancy through ingestion or environmental exposure. Teratogens include certain medications, recreational drugs, alcohol, chemicals, tobacco products, certain infections, and, in some cases, health problems such as uncontrolled diabetes in pregnant women.

Teratogens can affect the growing embryo as early as 10 to 14 days after conception. Throughout embryonic development, the developing organ systems are more sensitive to teratogens. If a teratogen is exposed during the first 3.5 to 4.5 weeks of pregnancy, a neural tube defect such as spina bifida or anencephaly may result.

Non-teratogenic agents are agents that have been determined not to cause congenital disabilities. Spermicides, acetaminophen, and prenatal vitamins are examples of non-teratogenic agents that are frequently misidentified as teratogens.

Why Are Teratogens Important

Teratogens, which can cause harm throughout pregnancy, beginning around the time of conception, should be understood by all parents. For example, smoking, drinking alcohol, and exposure to radiation and certain toxic chemicals increase the risk of miscarriage. Premature birth has also been linked to these and other teratogens.

Teratogens are also responsible for 4% to 5% of birth defects. Physical malformations such as cleft palate, spina bifida, or microcephaly (when the brain and skull are underdeveloped), as well as vision and hearing issues, are examples of Teratogens. Teratogens can also have an impact on cognitive development. Babies born to parents who drink alcohol or have certain health conditions, such as thyroid disorders, have lower IQ scores.

Best Ways to Reduce the Risk of Teratogens

The best way to reduce the risk of teratogen exposure during pregnancy is to avoid taking medications as much as possible and to avoid being exposed to the following:

1.     Herbal Treatments

Before beginning any over-the-counter supplements during pregnancy, consult with your doctor. Products claiming to be natural may not be safe to use during pregnancy. 

2.     Ionizing Radiation

If your doctor orders a test that could expose you to radiation during your pregnancy, they must be convinced that the risk of exposure is less than the risk of an untreated or undiagnosed condition. In most cases, a protective apron can be used to protect the lower abdomen. 

3.     Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease transmitted to humans through cat feces. You are not required to get rid of your cat. If you are pregnant and have a cat, you should avoid using the litter box as much as possible. Request that someone else in your household clean the litter box. If you don’t have anyone to help you with the litter, clean it every day to reduce your chances of contracting toxoplasmosis. 

Types of Teratogens

Teratogens can be found in your home, garden, medicine cabinet, and even within your body. The first step in protecting yourself and your baby is understanding these dangerous agents. 

1.     Alcohol 

Wine, beer, and other alcohol can harm a pregnant woman. Alcohol enters the developing baby through the umbilical cord and can result in stillbirth or miscarriage. Alcohol can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome, a lifelong spectrum of physical and cognitive disorders.

What is Teratogen

2.     Smoking Cigarettes

Cigarette smoking has a negative impact on fertility, increases the risk of pregnancy complications such as stillbirth and miscarriage, and has been linked to several birth defects. Smoking, in particular, can harm fragile, growing tissue in a developing baby’s lungs and brain.

The risks of using e-cigarettes and vaping devices while pregnant are unknown. However, research suggests that nicotine exposure in the womb can harm babies’ developing cardiovascular, respiratory systems, and nerves, even without tobacco smoke.

3.     Certain Medications

Even some doctor-recommended medications can be harmful once you become pregnant. Antiepileptic drugs, for example, can cause cognitive defects in babies, and blood thinners have been linked to certain congenital malformations. Accutane, retinoid, and other vitamin A-containing skincare medications can result in serious abnormalities such as cleft palates and intellectual disabilities. 

4.     Recreational Drugs

Approximately one in every twenty pregnant women uses street drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, and heroin during their pregnancy, which is extremely harmful to fetal development. Infertility, low birth weight, miscarriage, premature birth, and birth defects have all been linked to these drugs.


There is no way to protect your unborn child from every developmental risk. However, knowing about and avoiding the most dangerous teratogens, such as alcohol and smoking, is essential in giving your baby the best possible chance of growing healthy and strong.

Every day, scientists work hard to discover new causes of congenital disabilities, pregnancy complications, and developmental issues. So, when you find out you are pregnant, keep in close contact with a doctor about what you are eating, where you are living and working, and where you might be traveling (if not before). Your efforts to support a healthy, happy pregnancy will benefit you and your baby.

Lady Holding Pregnancy Scan Results

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