As a pregnant woman figuring out what to eat, what to avoid, what materials and substances are safe to come into contact with and which ones to steer clear from, can be a mind field.
Navigating your way through the guidebooks of parenting and how best to prepare you fetus for entering this world as a healthy baby – well, it’s a tricky thing to do to say the least. Parenting books and manuals often divulge the basic – some of the more obvious things, such as don’t consume alcohol or smoke, things like, things which I hope are common knowledge. But they rarely go into depth and discus specific materials and substances – chemicals, toxins and elements that make certain products bad for your health if you’re pregnant. Therefore many pregnant women know not to smoke or drink but are clueless when it comes to the other dangerous materials, and there are many.
Lead is a chemical element which is found in a number of different products – used in and as a part of various different production and manufacturing processes. It’s heavily used in the construction industry, but there may also be bits of lead around your house; lead crystal beads, lead glazing for cups and plates etc. But over the years, scientists have discovered that exposure to lead during pregnancy can lead to lead poisoning, which can have disastrous effects on the health of the unborn baby. I’m going to discuss the potentially harmful effects of lead in this article, in addition to a number of other materials and chemical elements, which, if you’re pregnant, you should steer clear from.
The chemical element, lead, is a heavy metal that’s used in a number of different industries. It’s used in the construction industry but it’s mainly used in the manufacturing of lead-acid storage batteries.
Why is this metal so dangerous to human health? Exposure can lead to lead poisoning which can have severe implications on human health. Exposure can occur due to a number of means, including inhalation of lead from contaminated air, water, food, or direct exposure. That’s why kids are at greater risk, because they love playing with all sorts of things and putting anything and everything in their mouths. What happens when this occurs? It could cause any number of health conditions, including seizures and stomach problems, but it mainly causes some form of intellectual disability as the brain is the most susceptible organ to the effects of lead.
Thankfully it’s preventable – simply by limiting the use of lead products in the house – and treatable using chelation therapy.
If you breathe in or swallow lead while pregnant, it poses great risk to your unborn baby. It’s likely to affect the fetus’s brain and cause developmental problems which may only become apparent at some stage later in your child’s life. Worst possible scenario, it could cause the death of your fetus.
Mercury’s a chemical element that’s present naturally in the environment, so having zero exposure to mercury is therefore impossible. But the amount of mercury that’s naturally occurring in the environment is considered safe: it’s a safe, natural level of exposure – that is unless something occurs which raises environmental mercury levels, such as a volcano, which are actually responsible for half of the world’s atmospheric mercury emissions. Unless you live near a volcano, a coal-fired power plant, or a steel, caustic soda, or cement production factory, atmospheric mercury levels are unlikely to be raised to a level that will cause you or your fetus any harm. It’s the mercury in fish that you’ve got to be wary of. Fish such as white tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish may seem healthy, like a good source of protein, which they are, but they’re also loaded with mercury. Mercury poisoning can damage you, although your body’s better equipped to cope with it. Your fetus’s minute form on the other hand, is not. Mercury toxicity can be fatal for your fetus, and can result in the fetus dying in the womb.
No one’s saying you can’t eat these types of fish during your pregnancy. Just limit the amount you eat – one to two portions a week, max. Also, don’t be taking a trip to any volcanos any time soon!
Organic solvents consist of organic compounds and these may be made up of aromatic compounds such as benzene and toluene, alcohols such as methanol, esters and ethers, in addition to many other compounds. But that’s enough of that scientific jargon. They’re basically chemicals which have been dissolved in other substances. These solvents are commonly used in dry cleaning, as glue solvents, paint thinners and they have many other uses. They could therefore be in your house, while you’re pregnant, and studies have found that that could be a seriously bad thing for the health and developmental wellbeing of your unborn baby.
Scientists have studied the effects of such solvents and have discovered that women who are frequently exposed to these solvents, especially during the first trimester, have an increased likelihood of giving birth to a baby with a severe birth defect.
If you work in an area where organic solvents are rife, ensure the area’s well ventilated or wear a mouth and nose covering. Don’t keep anything that contains such solvents in your house if you can help it.
12 Chlorinated Water
Like it or not, if you drink tap water, you will be consuming a small amount of chlorine. You might be thinking, “yuck, that’s the same stuff they use in our swimming pools,” and you’re absolutely right; of course the quantity of chlorine used differs, but it’s the same element that’s used.
Chlorine’s primary use by the water industry is as a disinfectant. It’s added to drinking water in order to kill off germs and bacteria that might cause contamination and therefore risk public health. The level of chlorine in the water supply, is of course, a safe level to consume. Some however, are particularly sensitive to chlorine, and these people could have an adverse reaction to even a small amount.
A by-product of the reaction between chlorine and water is chloroform and a few other chemicals. Yes, you read correctly, chloroform – the compound you see kidnappers use in the movies when they want to knock out their victims and send them to sleep.
There have been a few studies that have revealed that these chemicals could cause miscarriage or fetal abnormalities; sticking to bottled or filtered water would be the safest way to go during pregnancy.
11 Flame Retardants
Flame retardants do what they say they do; they’re used to reduce the potential devastation caused by fires. They’re not actually a specific thing – not a bunch of chemicals or anything like that. The term refers to the function – the fact they’re added to materials to make them flame retardant. The materials they’re added to could be anything from plastics to other flammable materials such as textiles.
What makes a flame retardant a flame retardant? It’s the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Most PBDEs are no longer used as a flame retardant, because the dangers of the ethers have been well documented. But of course, some are still in commerce and pretty much everyone’s home or office has PBDEs.
There are also PBDEs in the environment. But scientists have discovered that PBDEs could potentially cause developmental neurotoxicity in pregnant woman and it could affect the fetal development of the brain, and the brains of young kids too.
Toluene is a colorless liquid that has a very distinctive smell – that paint thinner smell. It’s an aromatic hydrocarbon and is used as a solvent, in fuel and as a precursor to other chemicals as it can readily dissolve in other substances.
High exposure to toluene during pregnancy can be very hazardous. It’s highly unlikely you’re going to be exposed to any toluene in your home or place of work – if you work in an office environment that it. People are exposed to toluene when it’s released into the environment from locations where it’s produced. Because it’s used in fuel, exposure can be high in periods of heavy traffic. Petrol spills and exposure due to substances at landfill sites – these are a major cause of exposure. The problems with this is that it evaporates rapidly and becomes mixed with the air you breathe. After it’s inhaled it’s taken directly from the blood to the lungs where it can cause a whole host of problems. The effects of toluene exposure during pregnancy could include: growth retardation, premature birth, malformations and general fetal toxicity.
Fluoride’s a mineral and it’s often naturally occurring too, so it’s tricky to minimize our exposure. Some public water supplies use fluoride in drinking water in a process called fluoridation and it’s naturally found in a lot of the foods we eat.
Another major application of fluoride is in the dental industry. Most of you probably know about fluoride is in toothpastes – an ideal preventative measure for tooth decay.
But is fluoride actually good for us, or at the very least, safe? There’s no arguing with the fact that it has its benefits in certain industries – although some scientists refute this notion of fluoride being good for us in any capacity. But too much exposure/ingestion of fluoride could be toxic. It’s been shown to accumulate in the pineal gland of the brain – a gland responsible for many different physiological processes, including sleep. During pregnancy, it’s been discovered that fluoride could directly affect the fetus’s brain. Fluoride poisoning could lead to fetal brain toxicity and it could cause quite a significant amount of neurological damage.
The chemical element, arsenic, is a naturally occurring element which is found in many minerals. It’s usually found in combination with other substances such as sulfur and different metals and it’s released into the environment due to certain human activities. It’s also in the earth’s crust and can be found in rocks, in the soil and the air. About a third of the arsenic that we’re exposed to comes from natural sources with the rest arising from man-made production processes. These processes may include metal smelting – arsenic trioxide is a by-product of such a process.
If you’re in a major city or any urban environment for that matter, you’re at risk from a higher level of exposure. But aside from environmental arsenic, exposure commonly occurs through eating and drinking. When ingested or inhaled, arsenic’s absorbed into the blood stream and the majority of it’s expelled in the urine. But the fact that it enters the blood stream means that it could enter your fetus’s, which is a problem and could cause arsenic poisoning and subsequently fetal toxicity if you have high levels of arsenic in your blood.
Try and get your tongue around this one: Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, but I’ll just refer to it as DDT. It’s used -or was until 1972 when it was cancelled by the United States Environmental Protection Agency - in a number of different industries, including in pesticides for insect eradication. There’s still of course, some DDT still lingering around, and it’s still used in certain countries around the globe as means of controlling malaria, typhus and body lice, but the U.S. saw it fit to ban it and it was banned and its production was cancelled for a reason. It was used because it stays in the environment for a long time, which is great for killing insects and pests, but really bad considering the effect it has on the environment, and consequently, on us.
In terms of pregnancy, there aren’t any human studies to look into; that’s because it’ll of course be totally unethical to expose humans to DDT deliberately, especially if they’re pregnant. But animal studies have shown that DDT can be harmful; embryos failing to attach to the uterus lining, high mortality rate if the baby’s born, etc.
This chemical element has a rather unique appearance. It’s a white metal, somewhat similar to zinc, and it’s widely used due to its ability to form complex compounds. Cadmium is also resistant to corrosion, won’t dissolve or corrode in water, and it’s not flammable – the ideal metal, right? Well, it’s not so ideal in its powdered form. As a powder, it’s potentially extremely hazardous when burnt as it can release toxic fumes. Poisonous gases are released and it’s a carcinogen too – capable of causing cancer.
Inhale these toxic fumes while pregnant and it can get into your blood stream and directly affect the fetus. In this respect it’s also a teratogen – has a toxic effect which could cause severe malformation of the embryo or fetus. In addition to affecting the fetus’s development, it could increase the chances of premature birth, and if the baby’s born, it could be born with abnormally low birth weight.
5 Bisphenol A
BPA is an organic synthetic compound which is currently used in the plastics and resin manufacturing processes. The resins they’re used to make are epoxy resins – used to coat food and drink cans, line water pipes etc.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over one million pounds of BPA are released into the environment every year. This presents a problem, although the major source of human exposure is through diet.
These levels are considered safe – obviously, or else BPAs wouldn’t be allowed in lining food and beverage cans and containers. But prenatal exposure to particularly high amounts of BPA could have a neurotoxic effect. But anything in a high enough dose could be toxic, right? So that’s not the sole reason BPA makes this list. It also has estrogen mimicking properties. Whilst your hormones are going haywire during pregnancy, you don’t want to consume something that could mimic hormones and disrupt the endocrine system to an even greater extent. The hormones involved in the endocrine system mechanics are responsible for controlling the environment in the womb; mess with this – as BPAs could potentially do – and you’re messing with your fetus’s home environment for the next nine months.
4 Environmental Toxins
Whilst your fetus is in the womb, it’s going through the most dangerous period of its life – it’s where it’s at its most vulnerable. Growth and development occurs rapidly, and even slightest thing could have dire consequences. The slightest things I’m referring to are the substances and molecules transported to the fetus through the mom’s blood stream; what you, the mom takes in during this period affects the fetus’s health.
But watching what you do during pregnancy is not always enough. Scientists have discovered that toxic exposure to environmental toxins during childhood could linger in your system and therefore affect your baby once you’ve grown up and are pregnant.
Children are exposed to greater levels of environmental toxins than adults, and because certain physiological processes in kids are still immature and are still developing, scientists reckon such toxins can affect the brain, causing a number of different issues in the future due to chemical exposure.
Here’s another tongue twister and yes, it is spelt right. Chlorpyrifos has many names and is mainly used in sprays for agricultural pest control. It’s used in agriculture and in industrial process, but many countries have banned it from being used in residential settings. That’s because it’s toxic to humans; frequent and high exposure leads to acute toxicity. Long-term exposure, even at low doses could have health implications which could be long-lasting. But if pregnant, these effects could be severe and cause major developmental defects in the fetus; not just as a result of high levels of exposure – at low levels too. This makes chlorpyrifos an extremely dangerous insecticide, something you definitely don’t want in or around your home. The way it exerts its effects is by effecting neuro developmental processes. That’s why it’s been found that moms who were exposed to chlorpyrifos gave birth to babies lacking in cognitive development. Down the line these babies have been found to have lower IQs than those with moms who weren’t exposed during pregnancy.
PCBs, short for polychlorinated biphenyls, are in reference to a group of chemicals – manufactured organic chemicals to be exact – that have a unique structure and set of properties.
These PCBs were widely used in the past in many different industries, predominantly in electrical equipment. They’ve also been used as coolants, adhesives in addition to many more applications. I’m taking about PCBs in the past tense because it’s use has been phased out in many countries. That’s because we now know of its environmental impact and the effect it has on human health.
As a result of PCB exposure, an individual might suffer from a skin condition, and have lower levels of the hormone, triiodothyronine, which pretty much has a part to play in every physiological process.
If pregnant and exposed to PCBs, there’s evidence to suggest the baby might be born with lowered cognitive ability, may be immune compromise, and might display motor control problems. PCBs are just bad news all round.
Phthalates are everywhere and in today’s day and age, they’re public enemy number one. A lot of research has been done of late, and we now know that there are numerous health risks associated with exposure to phthalates. They’re regarded to be public enemy number one, but what exactly are they?
Phthalates are used in a variety of different products. They’re used to coat pharmaceutical pills, used as lubricants, and they’re also used in items such as packing materials and children’s toys. So why have they recently gotten a bad rap?
Phthalates have been linked to asthma, certain types of cancers, diabetes, fertility issues, cognitive issues and a host of other problems. If pregnant, these chemical plasticizers could cause a number of issues, and they’re even linked to pregnancy loss.
Phthalates are all around us and can get into the body via ingestion, absorption and inhalation, but thankfully the U.S. have now started to ban the use of phthalates in certain products.
Sources: NCBI, ScienceDaily