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DES Mothers

  • By: Deborah Davidson
  • In: Encyclopedia of Motherhood
  • Edited by: Andrea O'Reilly
  • Subject:Sociology of Gender, Parenting, Maternal Health

DES, short for diethylstilbestrol (or stilbestrol), known as the “grandmother of synthetic estrogens,” was the first in a long line of synthetic estrogens. First synthesized in 1938 to prevent menstrual disorders, it quickly became prescribed widely to prevent miscarriages and enhance pregnancies. However, what was supposed to be a miracle drug became a medical nightmare, as it was the first known drug to cross the placenta during pregnancy. Women who took diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy became known as DES mothers; their exposed offspring are known as DES daughters and DES sons.

DES was never patented because funds for its discovery, received from the British government, required that all discoveries it funded be freely available to the world for production; this made it widely available. Although it was ...

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