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Unhealthy Prenatal Habits that May Cause Learning Disabilities

Behaviors and Habits to Avoid to Prevent Learning Disabilities

By Kate Simmons

Updated June 25, 2014

Pregnant women sitting outside cafa
Monkey Business Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
When someone finds out that a child has a learning disability, the first thing they usually blame is genetics. "There is nothing that could've been done about this," they say. "It's hereditary."

Actually, there are things that can be done that may prevent a child from being born with a learning disability. While genetics is a big factor, it's not the only thing that causes dyslexia, developmental delays, language disorders, and other learning disabilities. Brain damage, biochemical imbalance, and environmental causes may also trigger learning disabilities in children...

And most of it begins in the womb.

A baby developing in the womb is fragile, and it undergoes so many changes in a short period of time. That's why it's very important for you to nourish your unborn baby in the best way possible. That means avoiding bad habits that may harm your baby in the long run.

Here are six of the most common bad prenatal habits that may cause learning disabilities:


Everybody knows not to smoke while pregnant, but not many people know why. Mothers who smoke cigarettes or marijuana during pregnancy are likely to bear children with ADHD, low test scores, difficulty processing information, or behavior problems.


Alcohol is one of the most dangerous teratogens, or substances that cause severe birth defects. Alcohol exposure during pregnancy leads to a whole lot of development problems for the fetus, including severe brain damage, ADD, developmental delays, language and speaking delays, fetal alcohol syndrome, and lower reading test scores. Even low or moderate use of alcohol during pregnancy can cause learning and behavior problems in children.

Wolfing Down Lots of Junk Food

Junk food is loaded with artificial additives and flavorings. It also contains a lot of high-fructose corn syrup. While those chemicals are gross, they're harmless, right? Wrong. Many studies have shown that the artificial chemicals found in junk food affects a child's brain development, even in the womb. A study conducted by Yale University's Department of Pediatric Neurology concluded that exposure to a mixture of artificial food coloring can lead to hyperactivity and other attention deficit disorder symptoms. High-fructose corn syrup has been shown to slow down the brain's development and even affect one's IQ in the long run. To avoid feeding your unborn baby loads of artificial chemicals and flavorings, eat wholesome unprocessed fruits and vegetables, and try to prepare your meals from scratch as often as possible.

Not Breathing Enough Oxygen

In a 2012 study, researchers have discovered that children living at high altitude showed one in three chance of being developmentally delayed (compared to children living at sea level, who had one in five chance of being developmentally delayed). They concluded that pregnant women at high altitudes don't breathe enough oxygen (because the air is so thin). Fetuses need adequate oxygen for their brains to develop properly. The study also showed that for every 328 foot increase in altitude, the risk of developmental delays in children increases by 2 percent.

Eating Chinese Food

As delicious as Chinese food is, it's loaded with MSG, or monosodium glutamate. MSG is something you do not want to expose your fetus to. It's a flavor enhancer that activates the taste buds. Unfortunately, MSG may be dangerous to fetuses and infants. The Internet is full of reports of babies having seizures after being exposed to MSG. Some reports indicate that monkeys exposed to high levels of MSG developed brain lesions and were born with brain damage. Some researchers, however, feel that a clear link between MSG and these symptoms has not been established. When in doubt, however, it is always best to err on the side of caution where your developing baby is concerned.

Downing Caffeinated Drinks

Have you ever wondered why pregnant women aren't allowed to drink coffee or tea? Well, here's why. Caffeine exposure increases a fetus's chance of lowered IQ, learning problems, and hyperactivity after being born.

The Bottom Line…

If you eat smart and practice healthy habits, you'll be more likely than not to produce a healthy baby with a sharp mind!

Kate Simmons is a freelance journalist and occasional blogger mainly interested in topics related to parenting and education. She is currently pursuing studies at National American University.

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