Chemicals and metals
Because the development of the fetus is a critical window of human development, any toxic exposure during pregnancy and even before pregnancy can have effects.
We are all exposed to chemicals and metals in the environment including:
- Consumer products
An analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2003–2004 found that virtually every pregnant woman in the United States is exposed to at least 43 different chemicals. Chemicals in pregnant women can cross the placenta, and in some cases, such as with methyl mercury, can accumulate in the fetus, resulting in higher fetal exposure than maternal exposure.
There’s no avoiding the chemical stew in the environment today and some of these chemicals can affect reproductive health in women and men. This effect on the health of mothers, fathers, and babies in utero has prompted the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to call for stricter policies concerning environmental chemicals, identification of the riskiest chemicals and the levels at which they become dangerous, and ways to reduce exposure to them.
In response, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) says enough is being done. That the fine line between awareness and alarmist might cause undue distress and distraction from traditional means of working toward optimum health during pregnancy.
The ACOG, as well as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, say there isn’t enough concrete evidence that the exposure to the chemicals in everyday living is safe and there are few if any, studies that establish safe levels of exposure. They’re calling for the discussion of routine exposure to environmental chemicals to be a standard part of every prenatal visit. They’d also like to see a further scientific study that identifies risks and establishes safe levels of exposure.
Almost every American of every age has traces of BPA in his or her urine.
Socioeconomic differences mean some mothers are exposed to more dangerous chemicals than others and at levels more dangerous than in the general population. The workplace is often the source of exposure to some of the most dangerous chemicals an expectant mother faces and the AOCG suggests discussion of these on-the-job risks might prevent a significant amount of birth defects, miscarriage, and other problems associated with infertility.
Cadmium and pregnancy
Few people have heard about a chemical called Cadmium which is a metal present in the air, soil, water, and food. According to the CDC, "..when released into the atmosphere by smelting or mining or some other processes, cadmium compounds can be associated with respirable-sized airborne particles and can be carried long distances. It is deposited onto the earth below by rain or falling out of the air. Once on the ground, cadmium moves easily through soil layers and is taken up into the food chain by uptake by plants such as leafy vegetables, root crops, cereals, and grains." Increased cadmium levels in pregnant women can lead to many adverse pregnancy outcomes such as low birthweights, preterm births, small for gestational age babies. Reducing cadmium levels can lead to improved pregnancy outcomes.
Plastic food and beverage packaging
Almost all packaged foods and beverages contain BPA in the package materials, be it a can, box, bag, or plastic container of any kind. BPA can lead to significant negative effects on fertility and pregnancy. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is still being used in the canned food industry even after the chemical has been banned in the production of baby bottles and sippy cups. Many nations have banned the use of BPA for all reasons in all products but the US still allows it in plastics intended for use by adults and older children and to line canned foods. Almost every American of every age has traces of BPA in his or her urine.
Common household chemicals: The dirty dozen
Some chemicals commonly used in the home, workplace, and just about everywhere else are known as endocrine disrupters because once ingested, they mimic the activity of the body’s natural hormones.
Air pollution and pregnancy
There are several studies showing that polluted air can lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes including congenital malformations of the fetus, higher risk for preterm birth, and decreased weight gain during pregnancy.
Water pollution and pregnancy
Outside the workplace, every woman is exposed to chemicals in the food supply that can affect the health of a fetus. Mercury in the food supply, for example, might be minimized when a woman knows which fish are more likely to be polluted by this heavy metal which can impair brain development in the child she carries.
Since exposure to these common environmental chemicals can hardly be avoided, the AOCG advocates awareness and education that should begin at the earliest stage of pregnancy if not before.