Lead has a reputation for being the bad boy of environmental toxins but many people don’t know why. The chemical structure of lead is similar to calcium, therefore it is stored in the bones and teeth, right alongside calcium. Lead is toxic, though, and has a very long half-life, as long as 30 years. When the body experiences physiological stress, such as during pregnancy and lactation, the lead stored into the bones can transfer into the blood and other soft tissues. Once lead is mobilized this way, it can pass to the baby in the womb and during breastfeeding.
Due to its long half-life, a woman’s exposure to lead before pregnancy poses risk to the pregnancy and developing baby no matter how far in her past exposure occurred. Any previous incidents of maternal lead exposure, especially lead poisoning, need to be reported to an obstetrician for optimum prenatal assessment.
Effect on Fertility, Pregnancy, or Baby
Chronic high levels of lead exposure are associated with infertility and poor infant outcomes and increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Such extreme exposure levels are more often associated with on-the-job exposure in an industrial setting rather than in the average home environment.
- Decreased sex drive, impotence, and sterility
- Sperm abnormalities affecting count and motility
- Decreased fertility
- Problems sustaining pregnancy
- Stillbirth if exposure level is extreme
- Low birth weight
- Preterm delivery
- Increased risk of pregnancy-related hypertension
- Impaired neurological development
- Impaired hearing and motor skill development
- Learning disabilities
- Attention deficit disorders
To Minimize Exposure
- Minimize exposure to lead and lead-based products at home and on the job.
- If renovating an old home, employ lead-safe demolition and construction techniques.
- Filter water to minimize exposure from lead pipes.
- Take iron and calcium supplements during pregnancy and lactation to offset any deficiencies and to decrease lead’s toxicity.
- Monitor maternal blood lead levels throughout pregnancy.
< Common Household Chemicals
Source: “(Chapter 13) Lead Toxicity on Reproductive Health, Fetal Development, and Breast Milk (pdf).” Wisconsin Department of Health Services. State of Wisconsin. Oct 9, 2003. Web. Dec 4, 2013