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The Developing Brain - What Causes Abnormalities

Updated on May 26, 2012
38 Week Fetus
38 Week Fetus | Source

The developing brain is extremely vulnerable. The development of the brain is a complicated network of chemicals, cells, and timing. If all of these things are not on track things can easily go wrong.

Many times it is difficult to figure out what the cause of an abnormality of the brain or a developmental behavior disorder. However, in some cases it is possible to pinpoint the chemicals or genes that interrupted normal development.

Scientists have identified hundreds of genetic mutations completely able to impair brain development. There are many more to be discovered.

The developing brain is much more vulnerable than the adult brain. Adults with impaired thyroid function causes decreased alertness and lethargy, however a similar in infancy, a developing brain, causes permanent retardation and impairs body growth. Anesthetic medications cause only a temporary unconsciousness in adults while in infants it suppresses synaptic activity in neurons which are still vulnerable to apoptosis, which kills many neurons.

ADHD | Source

Alcohol and Drug Exposure

The exposure of alcohol impairs the development of the brain more so in infants than adults. Children of mothers who excessively drink during pregnancy can be born with fetal alcohol syndrome. This is a condition marked by hyperactivity, different degrees of mental retardation, decreased alertness, motor deficiencies, facial abnormalities, and heart defects. These children tend to grow up they have a much higher risk of drug use, alcoholism, psychiatric disorders, and depression. Researchers are unsure of the amount of alcohol that is safe to drink during pregnancy. The risk more than likely depends on the developmental stage of the pregnancy and the amount of alcohol.

Children who don't show facial abnormalities or other visual effects, still have issues. The more the Mother drank during pregnancy the more severe the effects. Some of these children show no outward effects but are more impulsive and a much lower school performance.

Prenatal use of drugs can be just as harmful as alcohol. Children of mothers who use cocaine during pregnancy have a decrease in IQ scores in comparison to children without these barriers, and a greater decrease in language skills.

Cigarette smoking during pregnancy has not been investigated enough. The results we do have show serious harm, and maybe even worse than cocaine. There is also a correlation between prenatal cigarette smoking and later antisocial behavior.

Fetal Acohol Syndrome
Fetal Acohol Syndrome | Source

Conclusion: How To Lower Your Risks:

It's important that pregnant women minimize their use of all drugs, if not completely stop for the health of their unborn child. Even legal drugs, cigarettes, can increase your risk of infant abnormalities. Everything in development has to be on track. If anything toxic, such as drugs or alcohol, enters a developing brain the chances of abnormalities increase greatly. A pregnant woman shouldn't take these risks. The developing fetal brain has the slight chance of abnormalities to begin with, so why increase the risk?

Risks of Smoking During Pregnancy:

  • Immune system impairments
  • Attention-Deficit or hyperactivity disorders (ADHD)
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or crib death
  • Low birth weight and great risk of illnesses early in life
  • Intellectual deficits
  • Crime later in life


Lester, LaGasse, & Seifer, 1998

Hunt Streissguth, Kerr, & Carmichael-Olson, 1995

Levitsky & Strupp, 1995

Ikonomidou et al., 1998

Famy, Streissguth, & Unis, 1998


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    • libby1970 profile image

      libby1970 5 years ago from KY

      Absolutely Jessica. I've heard people say one drink is fine... but it's not. Researchers/ scientists are unsure of any amount of acohol's safety on the fetus during pregnancy...therefore you are taking risks with a life that you are supposed to love! Very sad! Thanks for reading and posting.

    • JessicaSmetz profile image

      Just Ask Jess 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Great article!! Drinking in pregnancy can really hurt someones life, even just once. This is great info. :)