Factors responsible during fetal programming
The process of fetal development is full of complexities. Many outside influences can be responsible for different stages of developments which have different and complex aspects. This proves that external factors can significantly impact on the development of fetus, because of which many of the changes can last life-long.
The harmful chemicals which are well known for impairing the development of fetus are:
Ø Fetal alcohol syndrome: The syndrome is the result of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It is not only too much consumption can result in this type of syndrome; even the small amount of consumptions can impair the brain development of the fetus.
Ø Smoking during pregnancy: The overall growth of the fetus and brain development of the fetus can be significantly hampered by the smoking while the baby is in the womb.
Ø Thalidomide drug abuse: Thalidomide drug is very much responsible for disrupting the limb development of the fetus, resulting to deformity and so disability of the new born.
The idea about fetal programming
The fetus in the womb has to pass through different sensitive periods for some specific reasons, so may get impacted by any or many of these specifics. The impact of these specific reasons can permanently effect the fetus and so the child after birth. If the impact is severe, the child after birth will have a lifelong physical condition.
Programming of the fetus can be altered by subtle changes. The example: Altering some maternal stress and nutrition. The effects of these alterations may not show up immediately but will have definite end-result after some time.
The physical structure of the baby is formed within the first few weeks of pregnancy. This is the reason the arms and legs of the fetus get deformed due to the effect of thalidomide drug, if it is taken early during the pregnancy. The development of brain goes throughout pregnancy.
Development of brain does not end with the birth of a child; it goes on developing after the birth. That means the growth of the baby in the womb is very important. In case the baby grows very slowly in the womb, it will affect the baby even after the birth up to his or her old age. The examples are:- the growth development impairment of baby’s heart and kidney will surely disturb the functioning of these organs throughout the life time.
The other causes like lower birth weight can be a vital factor for the baby’s impairment in the later stage. The later stage problem due to lower birth weight is heart disease. Type 2 diabetes, Coronary heart disease, hypertension and stroke origin from the developmental plasticity. The cause behind this problem is under nourishment of the fetus.
Many other causes are there for the growth retardation of the baby in the womb. The nutrition of the mother is one of them. The problem attached with it may be smaller at birth but will become bigger in the later stage of the life. The matter is known as the Barker hypothesis, which has been proved by many other studies around the world. Many researches are still going on around the world to know about the factors that impair the fetal development and their aftereffects in the later stage of life.
The damaging effects of stress on the fetus
In case any pregnant mother experiences emotional stress, the fetus development, specially the brain is sure to be affected. If the brain of the baby is not properly developed, the later stage of the baby is sure to have post birth complications. The development impairments of the fetus can occur at any stage of the pregnancy. The nerve cells of the baby move to their final position during pregnancy. The nerve cells when fully developed get linked with other organs through their respective pathways.
The increase of brain is rapid during fetal development, especially in the later stage of pregnancy. With the increases in the tissues, the brain development is very much gradual.
The last 20 weeks of pregnancy
The last 20 weeks of pregnancy, the increase of fetus’ brain is 17 fold. In this stage, neurones, the nerve cells start getting joined up with each other and the basic functions of the brain start becoming ‘hard-wired’. The stress hormone cortisol’s higher level has been seen to change the fetal brain’s development. Although fetal brain impairments are not always connected with the stress factors of the pregnant woman, but majority of the cases have proved to be so.
Environment in the womb & the development of the fetus
It is a well-known factor that how we turn out, is completely our gene and environment dependent. Influences in the womb have much bearing on the feelings of the mother and the coinciding environment that begins in the womb. All these have lasting effects on the baby’s development, during the growth in the womb and also after the post natal stage. That is why supporting and looking after the pregnant woman is an important issue, for the period being and also for the future. So we must focus on the issue of BBB i.e. “Begin Before Birth”.
Stress management by mother & father both for fetal programming
Mothers must know the importance of stress during pregnancy and what are its repercussions on the wellbeing of the child. In this stage, the expectant mothers must know how to manage stress. The stress of the father is also an important factor too. If both mother and father know about the ill effects of stress on the baby’s development, the fetal programming can be a descent one. The fetal programming and fetal development is a science. The fetal programming involves the importance of epigenetics, evolutionary background and the placenta.
Role of health professionals in fetal programming
Health professionals must also know about the link between fetal programming and fetal development and this can impact both the baby and the child. They must be playing crucial role in helping the fetal programming.
Trust challenges vs. upcoming genesis researches: Medical researchers are supported by the Genesis researches for the purpose of improving the wellbeing and the health of the mothers as well children.
Wellbeing of the mother & child
An expectant mother must look after themselves during pregnancy and so she should eat balanced diet which should be full of vegetables and fruits. She must refrain from drinking alcohol and smoking.
In this stage, the mother’s emotional state is also an important issue, if she gives birth to a birth-defect child, she is not at all to blame herself. So, all of us need to support a pregnant woman directly and the unborn baby indirectly.
What the expecting mother should do?
A pregnant mother must not suffer in silence, if she is anxious, stressed and depressed for any reason. She must talk to her partner, family, friend, health practitioner and seek help to redress the problems, which are troubling her.
She must discuss about the worrying or upsetting factors and try to find out the solutions by herself or by the near ones. She must take time out for the day by herself. Relax by doing yoga, listening to music or anything that is soothing for the moment.
Further to it, she must receive different types of reliable information which are good enough for pregnancy and labor. This can control the whole situation and make the expectant mother more relaxed. Many such cases are advised to attend antenatal classes.
Some women in this period of their life may be under severe feelings of depressions and anxiety for some weeks which can even get worse, instead of improving. In this situation, a patient must talk to the doctor and explicitly explain the happenings. Treatments and counseling can be the remedial paths to be undertaken in this situation.
A few cases of severe episodes of depressions can be recommended for antidepressants. Although it is a fact that many women do not like to take medicines during pregnancy, but a few can get benefits from it.
Partner being the cause
In many cases of depressions, anxiety and worries of pregnant women are due to their partners being abusive and emotionally cruel. In some cases the partners are physically abusive too. This is found to be more relevant than it can be realized. In this case, a woman should talk to the medical professional or family or friends for talking appropriate step.
Research studies have mentioned about the following stress causing factors
1) Feelings of depression and anxiety
2) Daily hassles
3) Natural disasters, such as hurricanes or floods
3) Quarrels with family member or a partner
4) Terrorist attacks
4) Feeling of emotional cruelness of your partner
5) The pregnancy itself is the cause of Anxiety
Note: - Although stress is already known to be the cause of impaired fetal development, it is also true that all or 100 % do not get affected by this problem. Some of these women fell quite stressed but they do not have any after effect of this problem.
Measurements of (stress, anxiety & depression)
· Different methods are used for measuring stress. The methods include questionnaires for assessing emotions and emotional related problems.
· Specific feelings and emotions are asked in these questionnaires. The questionnaires also ask the carrying woman about the frequency of experiencing stress.
· The questionnaires also allow a person to measure the emotions and the degree of problems these emotions create, (both physiologically and psychologically).
B) B) Anxiety
Assessing anxiety during pregnancy is also done through questionnaires. This system is known as Spiel Berger Anxiety Inventory. Many statements are there. The categories are
1) Almost always true: Yes No
2) Often true: Yes No
3) Sometimes true: Yes No
4) Almost never true Yes No
The other things included in the statements are:-
· I feel that difficulties are piling up, so that I cannot overcome them
· I feel nervous and restless
· I get in a state of emotional turmoil, as I think over my recent concerns and interests
· I worry too much about things that don’t really matter.
C) C) Depression
Here also researchers use questionnaires for assessing depression during pregnancy. The system is known as Edinburgh Depression Scale. Many statements are there depending upon your frequency of feeling/experiencing them.
The statements are:
· I am feeling unhappy because I had my difficulty in sleeping
· when things went wrong , I have gone on blaming myself unnecessarily
· I had thought of harming myself due to some depressions
· I have been feeling really unhappy that made me to cry
Connection between stress and body
2 types of effects are there that stress causes on our body. They are:
1) Response to stress: This is experienced to be immediate. The condition is known as “flight or fight”. This type of type of response can occur within seconds. Noradrenaline and Adrenaline, which are otherwise known as norepinephrine and epinephrine. These types of responses prepare our body for taking immediate action, if there is any emergency situation.
2) The response no 2 is more gradual. It takes almost 20 minutes or so for our body to release a hormone, which is known to be cortisol. This hormone helps us to withstand on-going mental and physical stresses.
But there is a big complexity about one’s feelings and the responses of these 2 systems. Even there are occasions when we may become stressed without the presence of these 2 factors (adrenaline or cortisol).
A fertilized egg takes almost 38 weeks to become a full term baby. During this period, many amazing factors are attached with while proceeding towards the full growth of the baby. The changes take place over this period are:
i) During the course of pregnancy, barring vision, all the senses of fetus will be naturally stimulated
ii) As early as 8 weeks, the fetus can detect stimuli, especially in the cases of touch.
iii) The fetus gets the environment of no sensory deprivation
iv) Older the fetus it starts learning.
v) It starts recognising some tastes or sounds. These indications grow fully during the life after birth
Note: - Pregnancy is measured from the beginning of the last period, but the time of fertilization of the egg is counted 14 days after the pregnancy measurement. Even though pregnancy is known to last for 40 weeks of gestation, the first 2 weeks are actually without any action or development.