Saturday, September 29, 2012

Influences on Fetal Development

I suppose the first act of a woman that affects the future development of the fetus is her choice of mate. Considering natural selection and survival of the fittest, if a woman mates with a man with qualities that suggest adaptability, the child may have a better opportunity for health and longevity (Santrock, 2008). From a genetic standpoint, if a woman carries a genetic abnormality, or mates with a man who has one, the child has a better chance of being born with a genetic disease. Similarly, the diseases and predispositions of both the man and woman may be carried in DNA variations in the genetic material that becomes the fetus. Other genetic diseases that can be transferred to the offspring include the more common ones such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes, Huntington's disease and others. Santrock (2008) emphasized that developmental events and other genes can work in a compensatory manner to maintain normal functioning. So, although one's genetic make-up may not be his or her destiny in its entirety, it does have a tremendous affect on health.

Women affect the lives of the fetus and their unborn children with environmental affects as well. Several lifestyle changes can offer a woman and the fetus the best possible outcome in pregnancy. For example, although refraining from drinking and taking recreational drugs and unnecessary prescription medications will not guarantee the health of the baby, there does seem to be evidence that it does create a best case scenario for the particular circumstances of the mother and her child (WebMD, n.d.).

Pre and Postnatal Care

The quality of perinatal and prenatal care obtained by the mother during pregnancy has a significant effect on the health of the fetus as well as on the child after birth (Cantle, 2010). Care during pregnancy affects the mother's health and well-being and a lack of care negatively affects one in eight of women of childbearing age (Cantle, 2010). Educating women about pre and postnatal mental and physical health problems, especially for women in diverse populations, can help women make appropriate choices for their unborn children.

Prenatal Testing

Although the United States has become a leader in prenatal testing, Donovan (2006) believes women need better care when testing is warranted. Some women may take into consideration that the United States ranked 29th in infant mortality rates in 2008 (DeNoon, 2008). This, I imagine, is not a ranking most pregnant women expect from the high technology used in prenatal testing. Comparing 14 of the richest countries, the United States had the highest infant mortality rate (Friedman, 2012). Considering the increase in over the counter and complimentary therapies during pregnancy (Warriner, 2007) and the infant mortality rates for the United States, one might question women's general expectations and satisfaction with current standards of obstetrical care.

Multicultural Considerations

Cassar (2006) suggested when counselors work with pregnant women of diverse populations who practice or ritualize in ways vastly different from American culture, they should be respectful to specific cultural needs when contending with her physical and mental health. Just as counselors respect the unique cultural contexts of their clients, it is essential to honor the cultural differences of pregnant women. Shaw, Pickett, and Wilkinson (2010) suggested when pregnant women had more opportunity to share cultural affiliation, they tended toward better infant and maternal health. Adhering to the results of Shaw, Pickett, and Wilkinson, counselors would encourage clients from some diverse populations to take advantage of cultural networks.

The Crapshoot of Exposure
When trying to gauge the results of exposure to genetic or environmental factors, we can recall the affects of nature versus nurture. No specific formula exists, and the exposure of a fetus to a range of factors does not necessarily translate to birth defects. This may be the reason that obstetricians provide guidelines for the expectant woman, rather than a guarantee that if a substance or situation is avoided, the baby will be born healthy in every aspect. Exposure to toxicity, genetic variations, the mother's age, and a host of other factors do not determine absolute outcomes. For example, simply as a result of living in the U.S.A., the chance for a successful birth is lower than if the mother lived in Japan (DeNoon, 2008; Friedman, 2012). Some factors can be controlled; others cannot.


Cantle, F. (2010). Tackling perinatal mental health among black and minority ethnic mothers. Ethnicity and Inequalities in Health and Social Care, 3(2), 38-43. doi: 10.5042/eihsc.2010.0345

Cassar, L. (2006). Cultural expectations of Muslims and Orthodox Jews in regard to pregnancy and the postpartum period: A study in comparison and contrast. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 21(2), 27–30.

DeNoon, D. J. (2008). Infant Mortality: U.S. Ranks 29th. WebMD. Retrieved September 16, 2012, from

Donovan, S. (2006). Inescapable burden of choice? The impact of a culture of prenatal screening on women's experiences of pregnancy. Health Sociology Review, 15(4), 397-405. doi: 10.5172/hesr.2006.15.4.397

Friedman, H. S. (2012). The measure of a nation: How to regain America's competitive edge and boost our global standing. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Shaw, R. J., Pickett, K. E., & Wilkinson, R. G. (2010). Ethnic density effects on birth outcomes and maternal smoking during pregnancy in the US. American. Journal of Public Health, 100(4), 707–713. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.167114

Warriner, S. (2007). Over-the-counter culture: Complementary therapy for pregnancy. British Journal of Midwifery, 15(12), 770–772.

WebMD. (n.d.). Health & baby - your guide to a healthy pregnancy. WebMD. Retrieved September 17, 2012, from

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