The development of a fetus into a healthy baby is a complicated and delicate process. Genetic factors can sometimes cause the baby to be born with genetic disorders. Other diseases that can affect a baby in the womb are passed to the baby when the mother suffers from them. For this reason, it is important for a pregnant woman to keep herself as healthy as possible.
Two types of diseases can affect a developing fetus. The first group is genetic diseases. Although genetic disorders are considered diseases, according to experts like MedlinePlus, they are usually referred to as disorders. A baby with Down syndrome, for example, simply has an extra 21st chromosome. Contagious diseases, such as chickenpox, can also affect a baby in the womb.
Genetic disorders or diseases occur when a variation or mutation of a gene occurs, or when there is a chromosomal problem. Mutations can happen due to environmental factors or when a problem is inherited. Other diseases can affect a baby in the womb when the disease passes from the mother to the baby. The placenta is the vital organ that connects the developing baby to the uterine wall. Many things pass through the placenta and to the baby, including oxygen, nutrients and even diseases. This is because the mother’s blood runs through the placenta, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
If a baby has a genetic disease, a genetic counselor will discuss options with the parents. In most cases, these disorders can’t be treated, only managed. The way a mother’s disease affects a developing fetus can vary. In most cases, the baby will not necessarily catch the disease — although it does in a few instances. Instead, the baby may be weakened due to the sick mother. For example, a woman with diabetes may have excess blood sugar and insulin, which in turn can cause her baby to gain too much weight in the womb. Chickenpox contracted during the first half of a pregnancy can cause serious birth defects and even blindness in the baby, according to the March of Dimes.
Genetic screening can help prospective parents determine whether their baby is at risk for genetic diseases. In rare cases, termination of the pregnancy may be suggested. If the parents have a known history of serious genetic disorders, they may even decide not to conceive. Women who are pregnant should avoid being around sick people, especially children, as much as possible. Pregnant women who do not know if they are immune to chickenpox should be tested and vaccinated if they are not.
While genetic diseases are permanent, most contagious diseases passed on to the baby in the womb are not. Gestational diabetes, for example, usually disappears after the baby is born and does not have a lasting effect on the baby. Chickenpox contracted in the womb can affect a baby even after birth, according to the March of Dimes, but if treated promptly, the baby should be fine.