Chemicals and Substances to Avoid During Pregnancy

Just as you take care not to eat or drink things that could harm your growing baby, be aware of what you breathe and touch as well. Researchers are just beginning to understand the potential hazards of many chemicals and substances in our environment - particularly for pregnant women.

At a minimum, it's wise to avoid unnecessary exposure to industrial chemicals.

A few common concerns:

  • Lead is a heavy metal that can cause birth defects. If you regularly use lead-based paints or pottery glazes, talk to your doctor. Similarly, if you work near heavily traveled roads (as a tollbooth attendant or police officer, for example), you may be exposed to higher-than-average levels of lead from car exhaust. Let your doctor know this.
  • Certain paints, including those made with lead, oil or mercury, should be avoided. Also limit your exposure to latex paint that contains ethylene glycol ethers and biocides. If you're determined to have the nursery painted, let someone else do the job.
  • Glues or solvents can also harm a developing baby. Avoid exposure to household chemicals when cleaning. Wear gloves and open the windows if you must use strong household cleansers. Pump sprayers are safer than aerosol sprays.
  • Smoking during pregnancy may have long-lasting consequences. A recent study suggests that nicotine from cigarettes passes through the placenta and may influence fetal brain development. Prenatal exposure to smoke may also lead to memory and attention problems in adolescence and may even increase the likelihood that a child will become a smoker as an adult.
  • X-rays have also raised concerns. Because fetuses especially are more sensitive to radiation, healthcare providers recommend that moms-to-be and newborn babies avoid all unnecessary X-rays.
  • Cat litter may contain a parasite (passed in cat feces) that can cause toxoplasmosis, a potentially deadly infection for a developing fetus. Don't clean cat litter boxes or come in contact with other animal droppings.
  • If you color or perm your hair, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that it is safe to continue doing so during pregnancy. Applying nail polish is also considered safe but be sure you're in a well-ventilated room.
  • Gardening is safe during pregnancy, but wear gardening gloves to avoid coming in contact with any bacteria in the soil, and do not use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or weed killers.
  • If you work on a computer, know that there is no evidence that doing so will harm your baby. Sitting for long periods, however, can be hard on you and can increase the tendency to develop varicose veins. Be sure to take frequent breaks to stand up and walk around.

This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.

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