Risk Assessment For Neurobehavioral Disorders And Developmental Delays

Caused By Prenatal Exposure To Teratogens

© 2006-2011 Teresa Kellerman


A teratogen is any substance that might cause birth defects or brain damage to the developing baby during pregnancy.  Teratogens can adversely impact fetal development from two weeks after conception throughout the entire pregnancy, with the brain most vulternable to damage during the first trimester.  The following teratogens have been linked to neurobehavioral disorders or developmental delays in children exposed in utero:


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Phenytoin (seizure medication)










The risk factors associated with prenatal exposure are as follows:


Risk Factors

Once or twice

Several times


Not sure

Maternal residence outside of the U.S. during pregnancy





Maternal ingestion of dust in New York City at time of collapse of World Trade Center during pregnancy





Maternal housing close to hazardous waste site during pregnancy





Maternal use of prescription drugs for seizures during pregnancy





Maternal housing close to coal-fueled power plant during pregnancy





Maternal consumption of shark, swordfish, tilefish, mackerel, or more than 8 oz. per week of tuna during pregnancy





Maternal employment in manufacturing plant during pregnancy





Maternal employment or hobbies related to pottery, batteries, firearms, stained glass, soldering, automotive repair during or prior to pregnancy





Birth prior to 1967 when gasoline still contained large amounts of lead





Maternal exposure to renovation of a house built prior to 1950





Maternal pica (disorder that causes ingestion of non food items) during or prior to pregnancy





Maternal sniffing of glue or paint during pregnancy





Maternal exposure to excessive radiation (500 xrays of abdomen or close to nuclear testing) between 2nd and 12th week of pregnancy





Maternal use of illegal drugs during pregnancy





Maternal consumption of alcohol (more than 4 drinks at any one sitting) any time during pregnancy





Maternal consumption of alcohol (more than 4 drinks at any one sitting) during 30 days prior to pregnancy





Paternal consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol (more than 4 drinks at one sitting) prior to or at the time of conception





Maternal smoking during pregnancy






“Prenatal alcohol represents the largest environmental cause of behavioral teratogenesis yet discovered and, perhaps, the largest single environmental cause that will ever be discovered." -Riley, E. P., and Vorhees, C. V. (1986). Handbook of Behavioral Teratology. Plenum Press, New York, NY


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