To examine the relationship between maternal behaviours and foetal development, this researcher aims at first identifying what is meant by ‘maternal behaviours’ and ‘foetal development’. secondly, examining these behaviours specifically maternal smoking, stress and anxiety, alcohol consumption, maternal infections and nutrition and their effects on the developing foetus and lastly, to conclude this paper with an outline of some of the many roles an expecting mother is expected to play in order to ensure the healthy wellbeing of her developing foetus. Maternal behaviours and foetal development
Maternal behaviour is defined as behavioural patterns associated with or characteristic of a mother. According to this definition, foetal development is
“The process in which a human embryo or foetus gestates during pregnancy, from fertilization until birth”. (Moore) Contrary to ancient believes, the healthy development of a foetus not only depends upon the genetic makeup of that foetus but also widely upon behavioural habits exhibited by that expecting mother. The behaviours of expecting mothers may enhance or hinder the development of the foetus. Foetal development and:
Cigarette smoke contains over 1000 different compounds including carbon monoxide, carcinogens and trace elements of lead and nickel. Components of cigarette smoke are known to be transported over placental membrane and are able to act as mutagens in foetal tissues. These components have been shown to be placental carcinogens. Two main components suspected of causing harmful development on the developing foetus during pregnancy are carbon monoxide and nicotine. “Nicotine has been shown to be a potent vasoconstrictor reducing uterine and placental blood flow”  These properties may account for the increase in spontaneous abortions seen in smoking women. Smoking is seen to decrease foetal birth weight. A wide variety of cognitive achievement and behavioural deficits such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), have been identified in the children of women smoking during pregnancy. “Studies have continued to identify intellectual impairment as well as a 50% increase in idiopathic mental retardation”. 
Maternal stress and anxiety
Many studies have now shown that if an expecting mother is stressed, anxious or depressed, her foetus is at risk of having a range of mental disabilities.This has potentially harmful effects on the foetus where it develops asthmatic conditions, inhabits growth in the emotional areas of the child’s brain, rises the risk of stillbirths and makes it more likely for the child to develop schizophrenia. Prospective studies have shown that maternal stress and anxiety during pregnancy are related to infant outcomes such as: * temperamental problems and increased fussiness
* problems with attention, attention regulation, and emotional reactivity
* lower scores on measures of mental development
According to CYNTHIA LARKBY, M.S.W., AND NANCY DAY, PH.D, M.P.H., “Exposure to alcohol during gestation can cause persistent abnormalities in physical and cognitive development. Children who meet the clinical definition of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) are small for their age, exhibit characteristic facial anomalies, and demonstrate deficits in central nervous system development. Alcohol effects in children with prenatal exposure, but not FAS, are similar, although of smaller magnitude and not necessarily present in all three systems. The degree to which a person is affected by prenatal alcohol exposure depends on the amount, timing, and duration of the mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy as well as maternal characteristics (e.g., age and co morbid psychiatric disorders) and environmental factors (e.g., socioeconomic status and family problems). Some exposure-related effects, such as growth deficits, are directly related to the amount of...
Bibliography: 1. Harding, Richard: “FETAL GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT”;
United Kingdom; Cambridge University Press, 2001.
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