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Illicit drugs and environmental hazards all pose risks to the health and safety of all people. But they also pose a danger to an unborn child. This lesson will go over some major contaminants and drugs and how they can impact a baby in a mother exposed to them.

History & Prenatal Care

The Romans were the ancient world’s greatest empire building machine. Their superb army was only one reason why they conquered so many people.

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The reason they held on to their lands was their incredible engineering skill that built roads and aqueducts.What does this all have to do with prenatal care, again? Well, history has taught us a lot about the effects environmental hazards have caused on babies and people in general. Some of the water systems the Romans built were lined with a particular toxin, one that is very hazardous to human health and, of course, that of fetal development.While other lessons have described the risks involved with alcohol and medication use during pregnancy, this lesson will focus on other drugs and environmental hazards that are known to cause problems.

Toxic Metals

The chemical element and toxic metal that the Romans used to line some aqueducts and make cookware out of is known as lead. But we also know that some ancient Romans suspected that lead was toxic and recommended earthenware to be used instead.Today, we know for certain that lead can lead to a ton of problems for both mothers and babies. These include cognitive impairment, hyperactive behaviors, aggression and delayed growth in children, and anemia, neurological problems, and miscarriage in women.Lead can be found in a wide variety of places, from water and dust, from paint and the soil, to even some cosmetics and old vinyl blinds.

The worst part about it? Lead is tasteless and invisible in small quantities.Another metallic, liquid element pregnant women should be aware of is mercury. It’s the thing that’s found in thermometers. Mercury is also the element responsible for the term ‘mad hatter’ or ‘mad as a hatter.

‘ That’s because hatters in 17th century France were poisoned by its use and developed some strange behaviors.Nowadays, pregnant mothers who eat a lot of fish that contains mercury may have children who experience deficits in memory, language, and attention. That isn’t to say pregnant women should avoid eating fish, but moderation and careful selection of the type and source of fish is always advised.

Toxic Air ; Radiation

But you do not have to eat anything at all to hurt an unborn child. While some countries and cultures to this day believe tobacco smoke can cure even cancer and smoke of all sorts has been used in religious ceremonies for millennia, pregnant mothers should steer clear of smoke in general. Smoke is nothing more than really dirty air. If you’re not going to eat dirty food, why would you breathe in dirty air?Many tiny particles in the air the mother breathes in can eventually affect an unborn child.

For instance, tobacco smoke can cause an increased risk of developing sudden infant death syndrome and a low birth weight.Other air pollutants, like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, stemming from sources like car exhausts, local power plants, and even dry cleaners, have also been linked to everything from low birth weight to birth defects.Worst of all, there’s something in the air around you that you can’t see or smell, like dirty smoke. It’s called radiation, a form of potentially dangerous energy that can be found naturally or be man-made. Sources pregnant women should be aware of include X-ray machines and radiation therapy machines.

In most cases, taking a simple X-ray will rarely result in any seriously increased risk of any problem to the unborn child, but medical oversight is necessary nonetheless. However, other exposures to radiation, such as radiation therapy machines for cancer treatment, can cause serious birth defects.

Toxic Drugs

Thankfully, very few people have to live in the face of this. But having a child who is born with serious defects for any reason is a big personal disaster nonetheless. One other important category that can bring about this type of harm is illicit drug use.

Drugs have been used throughout history for many reasons. Famously, cocaine has been used as an energy booster, an anesthetic, and even an ingredient in Coca-Cola! But using drugs like cocaine and marijuana during pregnancy can cause problems in children, ranging from behavioral and cognitive impairment to decreased quality of movement and low birth weight.

Lesson Summary

There’s plenty more out there that can be harmful.

It’s not just lead, mercury, smoke, radiation, cocaine, and marijuana that are drugs and environmental hazards to be avoided outright or minimized as best as possible. For our lesson’s sake though, remember that lead is a chemical element and toxic metal that can be found in water, dust from paint and the soil, and even some cosmetics and old blinds.Mercury, a metallic, liquid element, is found in everything from thermometers to the fish you eat. Radiation, a form of potentially dangerous energy, is mainly a concern when around equipment or medical procedures using equipment such as radiation therapy machines.And don’t forget that illicit drugs like marijuana and cocaine as well as smoke of any kind, be it from marijuana, tobacco, or burning wood, can be detrimental to not only your health, but that of your unborn child.

Learning Outcomes

When you’re through with this lesson, you should be able to discuss the ways in which toxic metals, toxic air, radiation and illicit drugs can be harmful to an unborn child.


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