It is generally known that the usage of certain substances during pregnancy can affect the normal development of a fetus and even jeopardize the lives of both the mother and the unborn child. Yet, aside from this obscure piece of information, many people lack concrete knowledge on the subject. Knowing what are teratogenic drugs and how they are directly responsible for causing birth defects is crucial for minimizing the risks associated with pregnancy.

This year’s Mother’s Day, symbolically marked the beginning of Alcohol and Drug Birth Defects Awareness Week in an attempt to raise awareness and educate future mothers of the dangers of substance abuse during pregnancy. In an effort to contribute to the cause and continue raising awareness, we want to share information we consider is key to having a better understanding of teratogenic drugs and their effects on the fetus.

Adverse Effects of Teratogenic Drugs in Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a vulnerable period during which the health of the mother directly impacts the health of her unborn child and vice versa. Destructive habits like substance abuse can complicate the pregnancy and compromise the lives of both the mother and the fetus.

Exposure to certain substances, also known as teratogenic drugs, has a high chance of causing congenital disabilities, which are one of the primary causes of infant mortality. In fact, the chances that a fetus will suffer from some sort of birth defect is an alarming one in 33.

After coming in contact with powerful teratogenic drugs in the womb, the unborn child is at risk to develop physical and mental disabilities. These include breathing difficulties, poor muscle control, brain damage, learning difficulties, feeding difficulties, low birth weight, growth restriction, smaller head size, and many more. Also, teratogenic drugs can cause severe bleeding, preterm birth, and even fetal death.

List of Teratogenic Drugs That Are Known to Cause Birth Defects

Avoiding this list of teratogenic drugs in pregnancy will lower the risk of miscarriage and reduce the chance of developing birth defects:

  • Pharmaceutical drugs used for elevated blood pressure and congestive heart failure (benazepril, zofenopril, perindopril)

  • Drugs for treating acne (Accutane or Roaccutane)

  • Male hormones

  • Certain types of antibiotics (tetracyclines)

  • Certain types of medications for treating cancer

  • Thalidomide

  • Warfarin

  • All types of alcohol

  • Cocaine

  • Marijuana and tobacco

  • Methamphetamine

  • LSD

  • Heroin

What Are the Most Common Birth Defects Caused by Substance Abuse?

Birth defects are either structural or functional abnormalities that can develop during pregnancy for various reasons, but the most common cause is linked to some form of substance abuse.

In case the child survives, there is a high chance that it will develop physical, cognitive, and social disabilities. These disabilities will last over the course of the child’s lifetime and can be very disruptive. Most recent treatment therapies have had mild success in improving the overall quality of life, but unfortunately, not everyone has access to them.

While exposing the fetus to substances such as alcohol, illegal street drugs, and some prescription medications can lead to the development of various types of birth defects, it is worth noting that some are more common than others.

Since around 18 percent of women continue consuming alcohol even during pregnancy, some of the most common birth defects are alcohol-related. These defects are called Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and can affect the child’s physical appearance (growth restriction, low body weight, small head size, thin upper lip, small eye openings) as well as emotional, behavioral, and learning capabilities.

Some studies indicate that FASDs can also be the cause of visual impairment and hearing problems. If you have a history of alcohol abuse, we suggest seeking out professional help prior to becoming pregnant.

Other common birth defects caused by illegal and prescribed drug use are:

  • Omphalocele – A condition in which the intestines protrude outside of the abdomen.

  • Congenital heart malformations – Various problems related to the function and structure of the child’s heart.

  • Persistent pulmonary hypertension – A breathing condition known to limit how much oxygen is transferred to the brain and organs.

  • Anal atresia – A group of anorectal abnormalities that range from having a thin membrane of skin blocking the anal opening to missing the anal opening entirely.

  • Ear malformations – Various types of birth defects that range from slight ear malformations to missing earlobes entirely.

  • Abnormal development of the face and limbs – A group of birth defects that affect the shape of specific body features. The most common are cleft lip and clubfoot.

Public events like Alcohol and Drug Birth Defects Awareness Week are just the beginning. We all have to work towards educating people about how dangerous is the link between substance abuse and birth defects.

If you want to further discuss this topic with a professional, feel free to contact us via our website or by calling our facility directly. Our team will be more than happy to provide you with all the information you need. Together we can make a better future and ensure more children live a healthy and happy life.