Your Pregnancy Matters

6 in-home toxins to avoid during pregnancy

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While you can't avoid all in-home pollutants, you can reduce exposure during pregnancy.

Every day, it seems as if there's a new thing expecting moms should worry about.

Don't eat that! Avoid those products!

The latest news is a 2019 study out of Sweden, which analyzed the effects of first-trimester exposure to 26 endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDQs) on children's brain development by age 7. Research has shown that certain chemicals can absorb into a mother's skin, interfere with hormone activity, and potentially cause altered brain development in the baby.

The study of 718 child-mother pairs found that, particularly in boys, maternal exposure to EDQs resulted in lower IQ scores. The study found that bisphenol F (BPF) was the most concerning chemical. BPF is found in plastics, varnishes, and dental sealants and has been touted as a safer alternative to bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is present in many commercial products, such as plastic cups, food containers, and even cash register receipt paper. The differences weren’t huge but are still concerning.

"Chemicals are in almost everything around us, from the dishes to pet care products to the air we breathe. While pregnant patients can and should avoid certain toxins, such as the chemicals and bacteria in deli meat and unpasteurized milk, it's impossible to avoid every potential exposure to toxins."

Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, M.D.

This type of report can be scary. Chemicals are in almost everything around us, from the dishes to pet care products to the air we breathe. While pregnant patients can and should avoid certain toxins, such as the chemicals and bacteria in deli meat and unpasteurized milk, it's impossible to avoid every potential exposure to toxins.   

Pregnant women can limit exposure to certain day-to-day toxins, though. We've identified six common in-home pollutants and ways to reduce the risks to your baby. 

6 tips to decrease in utero exposure to toxins

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has called for Ob/Gyn providers and patients to discuss toxin exposure prevention since 2013. Following is a list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy. 

1. Pet medications and waste. Avoid handling flea and tick medication and other pet chemicals during pregnancy. Not only will you reduce exposure, you can also avoid the risk of being scratched or bitten by an annoyed furry friend. Also hand off cat litter duty during pregnancy to avoid toxoplasmosis – a parasitic infection from handling feline waste. Toxoplasmosis can cause liver and eye complications in the developing baby and flu-like symptoms in the mother.

2. Smoking and vaping. Don't allow either in your home or vehicle. A few of the potentially harmful chemicals found in both cigarette smoke and vape smoke include benzene and nickel.

If you currently smoke or vape, now is a good time to quit. UT Southwestern offers a free nicotine cessation program; call 214-761-3139 or email us at canceranswerline@utsouthwestern.edu to enroll.

3. Lead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions pregnant women to avoid eating spices and candy imported from outside the U.S. due to potential lead contamination. Some pottery uses a lead glaze, which can leach lead into food that is prepared or served in it. Also, if your home was built in the 1970s or earlier, its paint and plumbing might contain lead. Talk to your doctor about screening for lead exposure if you have risk factors.

4. Pesticides. Pesticide toxicity has received ample press in recent years. For example, beginning in 2021, California will prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos, a commonly used pesticide that has been linked to brain damage in children. During pregnancy, avoid handling lawn chemicals. If your yard is recently treated, don't go barefoot on the grass. Wash fruits and vegetables prior to slicing or eating them to remove pesticides, dirt, and bacteria. You don't need a special produce-wash product – running the food under water and toweling it off is sufficient.

5. Cleaning products. When used as directed, most cleaning products shouldn’t pose a health hazard. However, it's still smart to limit exposure. Consider wearing rubber gloves when you clean to reduce absorption through your skin. Also, be sure to crack a window to reduce the amount of chemicals you inhale.

6. BPA. Research has associated this chemical with altered brain development and behavior. In recent years, organizations have taken steps to raise awareness of BPA. Many children's products now come "BPA-free," though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintains that BPA is safe in food packaging products. Interestingly, the Swedish study listed BPA among the lowest risk of the top 10 chemicals analyzed.

Remember, it's impossible to avoid all potentially harmful chemicals at home and in our daily lives. If you are concerned, consult this Environmental Exposure History Form for tips to limit exposure. Still worried? Talk with your doctor about how to reduce risks at home.

To visit with an Ob/Gyn, call 214-645-8300 or request an appointment online.

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