Top 4 Causes of Intellectual Disability in a Baby During Pregnancy

Top 4 Causes of Intellectual Disability in a Baby During Pregnancy

Laying off the alcohol can help your baby in the long run.

Mums, pregnancy is on of the most amazing periods in your life without a doubt. However, it’s also a time when you need to be extra careful about what you eat, drink and expose yourself to, as all this can also affect your baby’s development – especially that of his brain. For example, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome, which affects baby’s brain.

So that you stay aware and informed, here are the top four things that could lead to slow brain growth (intellectual disability) in your baby during pregnancy.

fetal alcohol syndrome

What you eat, drink and are exposed to in pregnancy can affect your baby’s brain development.

1. Genetic Conditions

There are a variety of genetic conditions that could result in brain retardation of a baby during pregnancy. For instance:

  • Inheritable diseases like Down’s Syndrome, Phenylketonuria and Tay Sachs Disease.
  • Congenital defects can happen when both parents have genes that could be responsible for it.

It’s important to always undergo some form of prenatal screening, ultrasound scans or genetic counselling before your due date. That way, you would be better informed of any underlying conditions, so that you can manage them better with your obstetrician’s help.  

2. Leaving Yourself Unprotected to Toxic Substances

  • Being exposed to lead, mercury, or other environmental toxins can risk your unborn baby having intellectual disabilities during childbirth. 
  • The most common toxins do stem from social need. Drinking alcohol, smoking with or even around others (leading to second-hand smoking) or taking drugs are all well-known risk factors for giving birth to a baby with intellectual disabilities. Expectant mothers should be especially strict with drinking alcohol because it could cause fetal alchohol syndrome, which lasts until adulthood.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome 

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), simply put, is severe injury to your baby’s brain cells in the womb, triggered by alcohol that the mum chooses to drink. 

The alcohol travels rapidly through the placenta and crosses the baby’s blood brain-barrier. The alcohol then bathes the baby’s growing brain. The baby’s blood also gets filled with alcohol – as much as the mum’s – but remains flowing for longer. 

There are numerous effects of alcohol staying in the baby’s system, not limited to:

  • intellectual disabilities
  • a massive decrease in the body size and weight during birth
  • irregularities in facial features, which could alter the nose, eyelids, lips and jaw 
  • issues which lead to the heart, urinary, genital and skeletal systems and structures to stop working properly

A new study (2018) has also claimed that drinking any amount of alcohol is bad for you. 

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Adults 

The children affected by FAS grow up to become adults with many issues such as:

  • lacking good co-ordination
  • becoming irritable easily
  • being hyperactive
  • missing language development milestones 
  • having an IQ score that’s lower than average
  • having  difficult in relationships and issues in school
  • engaging in criminal activity and alcoholism

3. Infectious Diseases or Extreme Injuries

A pregnant mum affected by infectious diseases such as meningitis and measles can give birth to a baby with intellectual disability. The disease itself can cause conditions like hydrocephaly if it doesn’t directly cause the condition. 

fetal alcohol syndrome

Premature babies who survive are at risk of learning disabilities in the future. | Image courtesy: Pexels

4. Complications During Pregnancy

  • Babies lacking oxygen when mum is giving birth could lead to brain injury and the development of an intellectual disability.
  • Premature babies are also similarly affected. There are a variety of causes of premature birth, but a common one is preeclampsia. This is a condition which affects both the mum and the baby. Preeclampsia restricts the placenta from gaining blood, making the baby born much tinier than usual.    


References: Florida Hospital, WebMD, Healthline, Elsevier, Otago Daily Times

Also read:

Medications to avoid during pregnancy: Why these pills are no good

5 lesser known learning disabilities that affect young kids

Alert: Drinking during pregnancy exposes the baby to 428 diseases

Fertility treatment increases risks of intellectual disabilities

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