While the period of gestation is one of anticipation and joy, it also carries potential risks to the developing fetus. A myriad of factors can influence fetal health, leading to various conditions that could affect the baby’s growth and development.
Here are some medical conditions, explained in greater detail, directly impact the fetus during pregnancy.
Congenital Heart Defects
These are the most common type of birth defect, affecting the structure of the baby’s heart. Heart defects can range from mild conditions that need no treatment to severe abnormalities that require surgical intervention soon after birth. They can lead to issues like cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin due to low oxygen), heart failure, and difficulties in feeding and growth.
Neural Tube Defects
These are severe birth defects of the brain and spine that occur when the neural tube fails to close completely during the early weeks of fetal development. Spina bifida (spinal cord and nerves are exposed outside the body) and anencephaly (most of the brain and skull do not develop) are examples of neural tube defects. Depending on the severity, these conditions can lead to paralysis, cognitive problems, and in some cases, can be life-threatening.
Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
These are facial and oral malformations that occur during early pregnancy when separate areas of the face do not join together properly. A cleft lip presents as a split in the upper lip, while a cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth. Both can cause feeding difficulties, speech problems, and frequent ear infections.
This is a chromosomal disorder caused when an error in cell division results in an extra chromosome 21. Down syndrome is associated with intellectual disability, a characteristic facial appearance, and weak muscle tone in infancy. It may also lead to congenital heart disease and other health issues.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
FAS is a condition in a child that results from alcohol exposure during the mother’s pregnancy. It causes brain damage and growth problems, with physical, behavioral, and learning issues ranging from mild to severe.
Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR)
This is a condition where the fetus is significantly smaller than expected for the number of weeks of pregnancy. IUGR can lead to various health issues in the newborn, such as low oxygen levels at birth, a decreased ability to fight infections, and low blood sugar levels.
This occurs when a pregnant woman’s Rh blood type (either positive or negative) doesn’t match her baby’s. It can lead to the mother’s immune system attacking the baby’s red blood cells, causing a condition known as hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn, which can lead to jaundice and anaemia in the newborn.
These conditions highlight the need for regular prenatal care and screenings during pregnancy. Through these measures, many of these conditions can be detected early, enabling appropriate intervention and management to ensure the best possible outcome for the baby.