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There are not a whole lot of occasions when I can promise students that what I cover in a particular lesson will be of great importance to their personal lives and those of the people they care about. This is one of them. Unless you lead a very sad, isolated existence, at some point, either you, your spouse or someone you care about, such as a sister, good friend, aunt, cousin, etc. will become pregnant and have a child. At this point, it would be a very good thing if you knew what a teratogen was.
Any time you read that a drug is "teratogenic", you should know that means it causes birth defects. Here is a clear case of where what you don't know CAN hurt you, or, worse, can hurt your unborn child. Your textbook does mention the most common teratogens, but I want to cover these in more depth and emphasize these because this information is SO important and (in my opinion) cannot be stressed enough.
HOW THE WORLD WOULD BE DIFFERENT IF I RAN IT - # 1
First of all, I would legalize marijuana and ban alcohol. Although marijuana does cross the placenta, and there is some possibility of harm to the fetus, the effects of alcohol are undeniable and pervasive.
ALCOHOL & FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME
As a professional, you will frequently be called
upon to provide information on FAS. The national prevalence is estimated
at somewhere between one in 750 and one in 900 births. However, there are
some estimates which are considerably higher, suggesting that many cases
of FAS go undiagnosed, either due to lack of knowledge on the part of health
care providers, or unwillingness to accuse the parents of alcoholism. Fetal
Alcohol Syndrome is more common on reservations, and in the upper midwest
states, two areas with higher rates of alcoholism than the national average.
Despite more attention to FAS lately, misconceptions are still rampant.
When I lived in North Dakota, I made it a point to ask teenage girls what
they thought would happen if they drank during pregnancy. Some of the answers
revealed an astonishing degree of ignorances, such as "Your baby
would be smaller when it was born, but after a while, it would be okay."
or "There's something called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but that only happens
HOW THE WORLD WOULD BE DIFFERENT IF I RAN IT - # 2
The most critical period for teratogenic effects
is in the first trimester, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
If I were God, I would change this. As you can see by the chart on page
75, during the first three months, the nervous system, eyes, ears and all
major organs develop. Before vaccinations became widespread in this country,
it was not uncommon to see 'post-rubella babies'. Rubella (also called
German measles), could cause babies to be born blind, deaf and mentally
retarded. However, sometimes, the babies were born deaf and mentally retarded,
but not blind. In other cases, children might be mentally retarded but
have no hearing or visual impairment, and, in still other cases, be born
normal. I am old enough to have heard about the last German measles epidemic
, and the many babies born disabled, and I wondered why there would be
such a difference in effects.
Moral: Get vaccinated. If you are female and have even the remotest
possibility of ever becoming pregnant, make sure you have been vaccinated.
Even if you are decades past menopause, or male, get vaccinated anyway
to prevent the possibility of spreading rubella. It goes without saying
that young children should be vaccinated. Unfortunately, it is a national
shame the extent to which children, particularly poor children, in the
United States are NOT receiving timely immunization (but more on that in
a later section of the course).
HOW THE WORLD WOULD BE DIFFERENT IF I RAN IT - # 3
Being a young person, who had never had a baby of her own, I accepted this answer. After all, she was pregnant, and she should know, right?
WRONG! The brain
develops throughout pregnancy and after.
There is no 'safe period' when your baby is fully formed and 'nothing'
can affect it. While there is mounting evidence that children prenatally
exposed to cocaine may have a better chance for normal development, in
the long run, than was originally thought, studies with these positive
findings are based on cases where children are subsequently raised in a
stimulating, nurturing environment. Unfortunately, the type of mother who
would abuse drugs during her pregnancy is often NOT the type of person
who can provide a positive environment for her child, and so these infants
are exposed to poverty, neglect and drug abuse in the home on top of their
poor initial development. An important fact for those in early childhood
education to be aware of is that these babies DO show short-term effects,
of hypersensitivity, irritability, hyperactivity and being difficult to
soothe. A couple of acquaintances who work in an early intervention
(birth to three) program for 'crack babies' describe their little children
as "hell on wheels". Regardless of their long-term outcomes, it is clear
that, as young children, babies exposed to cocaine present significant
challenges to their caregivers and have significantly more problems than
young children not exposed to drugs.
HOW THE WORLD WOULD BE DIFFERENT IF I RAN IT - # 4
Babies whose mothers are malnourished are more likely to be low birthweight, die in infancy and have physical and neurological problems. Proper nutrition does not mean simply enough food, but the right kinds of food, including milk, fruits, vegetables and protein. Not surprisingly, the women least likely to have proper nutrition in this country are those who are poor, who are disproportionately Native American, African-American and Latina women. Poorer nutrition, less prenatal care and higher incidence of alcoholism might explain why the infant mortality rate reported by the Indian Health Service for the Aberdeen area (which includes all of the reservations in North and South Dakota) was 2%. The first time I read this statistic, I thought it was a mistake, that someone had left out a decimal point. A student from Fort Berthold happened to come into my office while I was reading this report, and I asked his opinion. He said, "That sounds about right." I still couldn't believe it and said, "Come on, how many people do you know who have had babies die in their first year." He stood there and named enough people to make me depressed for the next couple of weeks.
Lately, in my home state of California, there has been a push to restrict these types of programs, and to deny prenatal care and nutrition assistance to pregnant women who are illegal aliens. Of course, according to the U.S. constitution, these children will be U.S. citizens when they are born, and according to all of the research reviewed in your text, they are more likely to have medical complications, physical and mental impairments. Personally, I am usually the first, loudest and longest to complain about how high my taxes are and how much of it is wasted. However, I have to agree with Winston Churchill, who stated that "A nation can make no better investment than putting milk into babies."
Click here to go on to fascinating information about birth, which, I do not CARE what our Lamaze instructor said last week, is not painless no matter how many hours a week you practice those breathing exercises!
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