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Teratogens

A teratogen is an environmental agent that can adversely affect the unborn child, thus producing a birth defect. Teratogens include infectious agents, such as rubella, syphilis, and herpes, and chemicals. Chemical exposures can occur through lifestyle choices (e.g., alcohol, smoking, drugs) or exposure to environmental hazards (e.g., X rays, certain environmental chemicals). The teratogenicity, or nature and extent of harm to the fetus, is influenced by fetal genetic vulnerability, type and amount of teratogen, and timing of the exposure during pregnancy. For example, certain teratogens may have adverse effects only during critical periods of fetal development or after a certain amount of exposure. There are possible exceptions to these principles in which teratogenic exposures may not result in negative effects. There are also agents and conditions with possible, but unproven, effects on fetuses. Therefore, it is important to check with a knowledgeable source for possible consequences of exposure.

Bibliography

Brendt, Robert, and David Beckman. "Teratology." In Robert Eden, Frank Boehm, Mary Haire, and Harry Jonas eds., Assessment and Care of the Fetus: Physiological, Clinical, and Medico-legal Principles. Norwalk, CT: Appleton and Lange, 1990.

Kolberg, Kathleen J. Sipes. "Environmental Influences on Prenatal Development and Health." In Thomas Whitman, Thomas Merluzzi, and Robert White eds., Life-Span Perspectives on Health and Illness. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999.

McCormick, Marie C., and Joanna E. Siegel, eds. Prenatal Care: Effectiveness and Implementation. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

O'Rahilly, Ronan, and Fabiola Muller. Human Embryology and Teratology. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1992.

Schettler, Ted, Gina Solomon, Maria Valenti, and Annette Huddle. Generations at Risk: Reproductive Health and the Environment. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Deena R. Palenchar

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 8