How Is Teratogen Exposure Linked To Birth Defects? January 23, 2024.

How Is Teratogen Exposure Linked To Birth Defects?

As a fetus develops in the womb, it receives vital nutrients and oxygen from the mother. The oxygen and nutrients are transported from the mother’s bloodstream into the fetus's bloodstream. During pregnancy, the mother and the fetus are essentially sharing blood. This means that if the mother is exposed to a harmful substance it can affect how the fetus will develop. These harmful substances are referred to as teratogens

During any pregnancy is it important to receive proper medical care. It is especially important for first-time pregnancies, because the mother may not know what could be harmful to their baby. This is why medical professionals are responsible for educating the expecting mother on how teratogens could cause birth defects. If your child was born with birth defects due to a medical professional’s negligence and carelessness, you may be able to receive compensation.

What are Teratogens?

Teratogens include medications, substances, environmental toxins, or infections that can cause abnormalities in a developing fetus. These are commonly referred to as birth defects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are around 120,000 babies born with birth defects each year in the United States. Teratogens affect the fetus if the mother is exposed to them. Even if the mother is exposed for a short time, the fetus may still be at a higher risk for birth defects.

What are Examples of Teratogens?

Common teratogens that expecting parents usually know to avoid during pregnancy are cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol. However, environmental toxins, infections, and medication the mother takes can also put the fetus at a higher risk for birth defects.

The Cleveland Clinic states that medications expecting mothers should avoid are: 

  • Blood thinners
  • Hormone medication
  • Antithyroid medication
  • Antiepileptic medication

Some infections that pose a serious threat to a developing fetus include:

  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Syphilis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Chicken Pox

Several environmental toxins or chemicals can harm a developing fetus as well. These include but are not limited to:

  • Radiation
  • Mercury
  • Lead

How Do Teratogens Cause Birth Defects?

When the expecting mother is exposed to teratogens, the chemicals enter the fetus’s bloodstream through the placenta. The teratogens can affect different parts of the fetus depending on when the mother was exposed.

At all stages of pregnancy, doctors highly advise avoiding teratogens. Critical development of the fetus happens early in the pregnancy. This is why most birth defects form within the first trimester, or the first 3 months of pregnancy. Between weeks 5-8, the fetus’s heart and blood vessels will form and their heart cells will start to beat. During weeks 13-14 the fetus’s liver, kidneys, and lungs start to develop. 

Birth defects can still occur at any time during the pregnancy. Some organs, like the brain and spinal cord, develop throughout the whole pregnancy.

Birth Defects Caused by Teratogens

Though some birth defects are passed down to the fetus genetically, several birth defects are caused by teratogens.

Common birth defects that are caused by teratogens include:

  • Spina bifida
  • Cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Heart issues
  • Underdeveloped or missing limbs
  • Brain or spinal issues
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome

Teratogens and Medical Malpractice

Medical professionals have the important responsibility to make sure the fetus will be safe throughout the pregnancy. They have to make expecting mothers aware of all teratogens and educate them on the consequences. So, in what instances can families sue medical professionals if they believe their child’s birth defects were caused by teratogens?

Failed Communication Between Medical Professionals and Expecting Patients 

Good communication is an essential part of the healthcare industry. But, when a doctor fails to educate expecting mothers about teratogens and their consequences, it could lead to devastating outcomes for the baby. The obstetrician should provide expecting mothers with a full list of teratogens. The family should also be educated about infections that could cause birth defects and how to prevent them. If the obstetrician does not educate the expecting mother about what teratogens can harm their baby, then the family may be able to sue if their child was born with birth defects.

Prescribing Teratogens

Since some medications are harmful to a fetus, medical professionals should be aware of all medications that could cause birth defects. Expecting mothers who are prescribed medications while pregnant that are linked to causing birth defects may be able to receive compensation if their baby is born with a birth defect. The family may also be able to sue if they were not told that the medication they are on could affect the baby.

Inaccurate Medical Records

The mother’s medical history should also be looked at closely. Medical professionals who are working with the expecting mother should inquire about the medication they take. Even though the information should be up-to-date on the patient's records, they aren't always accurate. It is always best for the medical professional to ask about the current medications the patient is taking. If the medical records are inaccurate and the expecting mother is taking a harmful medication, then the medical professionals won't be able to recommend that they stop taking it. 

How Can Our Cleveland Birth Injury Attorneys Help You?

The Mellino Law Firm specializes in medical malpractice and birth injury cases in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Christopher Mellino has been fighting for medical malpractice victims for almost 40 years. Over his career, he has reached record-setting settlements and verdicts against all hospitals in the Cleveland area. 

We recognize how devastating birth defects are to families. Birth defects are linked to serious lifelong issues, which can cost families millions of dollars in medical care. If you believe your child is a victim, we encourage you to contact our attorneys to file a birth injury claim against the medical professionals. Call our Cleveland birth injury attorneys at (440) 333-3800 or fill out our contact form today to schedule a free consultation.