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Teratogens & Adoption

A teratogen (pronounced tuh-RAT-uh-jen) is any substance that can harm an unborn human fetus (baby) when used during pregnancy. A few examples of teratogens are alcohol, smoking, street drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medications, and some environmental agents. Infections, vaccines, herbal products, and occupational exposure to chemicals are also teratogens. These substances can cause birth defects, premature delivery, low birth weight, intellectual disabilities and/or behavioral problems. Usually the risks are higher with heavy exposure and not so great with light to moderate use.  A baby can be healthy and happy, even with some teratogenic exposure.


Teratogen can be a big, scary word during adoption! When you’re adopting a baby, it’s important to know the facts about any teratogens that may have affected the prospective birth mother’s baby. Luckily there are experts available to help you learn how a baby might be affected by specific teratogens he or she has been exposed to in utero.


When you’re working with Children’s Connections to complete an adoption, we will always inform you when we learn of any baby’s exposure to teratogens. In addition, we’ll refer you to both Texas and national Genetic and Teratogen Counselors. We encourage you to become as informed as you can be about teratogen exposure from qualified sources. Counselors will be available to you at no charge. Education about teratogens will likely lessen your fears. Often you’ll learn that exposure does not necessarily cause the extreme disabilities or defects you may have initially expected.


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