Pregnancy: Chemicals, Cosmetics, and Radiation
Take care to protect your developing fetus from dangerous substances during your pregnancy:
- Fumes from pesticides, household cleaners, and paint can be harmful to a developing fetus, especially in the first trimester. While you are pregnant, use chemical-free cleaning alternatives. If you must use chemical cleaners, wear gloves, ventilate the area, and avoid inhaling fumes.
- Exposure to lead can cause miscarriage, and experts report that children of mothers exposed to lead during pregnancy may have delayed development.footnote 1 A pregnant woman who is exposed to lead can also pass it to her fetus through the placenta. For more information, see the topic Lead Poisoning.
- Exposure to mercury can cause mild to severe nervous system damage. Before and during pregnancy and breastfeeding, take measures to limit high mercury fish intake to no more than 150 g (5 oz) a month. This includes fresh or frozen tuna (not canned "light" tuna), shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy, and escolar. Do not eat more than 300 g (10 oz) of albacore tuna each week.footnote 2
Nail polish, artificial nails, hair dyes, and hair permanents all contain strong chemicals. There is not very much research about the use of these products during pregnancy. It is always a good idea to reduce your exposure to these chemicals and be sure the room is well-ventilated. For more information about the effects that chemicals can have on a fetus, see the Organization of Teratology Information Services website at www.teratology.org/otis_fact_sheets.asp.
Radiation exposure: X-rays, air travel, and electrical appliances
A single diagnostic X-ray , such as a dental X-ray, does not harm your fetus.footnote 3 But it's still a good idea to avoid unnecessary X-rays. If an X-ray is necessary, be sure to tell the technician that you are pregnant. Many X-rays can be delayed until after pregnancy. If X-rays are needed, they can be done with a lead apron that shields your belly.
If you travel by plane frequently on business or as an airline pilot, flight attendant, air marshal, or courier, it is possible for you to exceed the cosmic radiation limit considered safe during pregnancy (1 millisievert, or mSv). Although the occasional flight doesn't pose a risk, frequent low-altitude domestic flights or several high-altitude international flights may increase your radiation exposure.footnote 4
The radiation from electrical appliances such as televisions, computers, or electric blankets (electromagnetic radiation) has not been shown to cause birth defects. Electric blankets or water bed heaters can be used to warm the bed, but it is a good idea to turn them off when you get into bed so that you don't become overheated.
- Shannon MW (2007). Lead. In MW Shannon et al., eds., Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose, 4th ed., pp. 1129-1146. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- Health Canada (2008). Mercury in fish: Consumption advice: Making informed choices about fish. Available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/chem-chim/environ/mercur/cons-adv-etud-eng.php.
- Cunningham FG, et al. (2010). General considerations and maternal evaluation. In Williams Obstetrics, 23rd ed., pp. 912-925. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2009). Air travel during pregnancy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 443. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 114(4): 954-955.
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah A. Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Brian O'Brien, MD, FRCPC - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology, Reproductive Endocrinology
Current as ofNovember 21, 2017
Current as of: November 21, 2017
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Sarah A. Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Brian O'Brien, MD, FRCPC - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Elizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal Medicine & Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology, Reproductive Endocrinology
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