Many factors affect the developing fetus. These include the expectant mother’s diet and her access to prenatal care. Harmful substances in the environment can also enter an expectant mother’s body through her skin or the air she breathes. Once inside the mother’s body, these substances can cross the placental barrier and affect her unborn child.
What are some of these harmful environmental factors that mothers should avoid?
• Air pollution: At least one study has linked air pollution with low birth weight. In 1999, Environmental Health Perspectives oversaw a study, which found intrauterine growth retardation to be associated with poor air quality.
Car exhaust in particular can have a deleterious effect on an unborn baby. Doctors recommend that expectant mothers stay indoors on days when the smog index is high.
• Chemical solvents: Chemical solvents are solutions of organic chemicals that are used to dissolve a variety of different solids. Chemical solvents include substances like alcohol, acetone, grease removers and paint thinners. Inhaling these substances can lead to kidney, liver and brain damage, or even death.
Chemical solvents have been linked to spontaneous abortions, intrauterine growth retardation and birth defects. It’s safe to work with these substances so long as you’re working in a well-ventilated environment. Open all windows and use a fan. For added protection, wear a facemask and other protective clothing.
• Lead: Lead was taken out of house paint in 1978. However, expectant mothers who live in houses built before 1978 may come in contact with lead-containing paint residues. Lead can cause miscarriage, as well as decreased birth weight and significant developmental delays after birth.
If you live in an older house with crumbling paint, stay away from that part of the house. You will need to hire someone to remove the lead-based paint.
Some older houses also have lead in their plumbing fixtures. Houses that draw water from wells also may have water supplies contaminated with lead.
Have your water tested. There are commercially available filters that will remove lead particulates from water. Other safety precautions include avoiding the use of hot water. Hot water will absorb more lead from the pipes than cold water will.
If your water supply has lead in it, never use it to reconstitute baby formula. Use bottled water instead.
• Mercury: Expectant mothers can be exposed to mercury in the form of methylmercury found in certain types of fish.
Mercury is a common byproduct of many industrial processes. It’s absorbed into oceans where it’s fixed in the bodies of plankton and other marine life in the form of methylmercury. In that manner, it moves up the marine life food chain.
Fatty fish like tuna, swordfish and shark contain the largest amounts of methylmercury. Experts advise women to refrain from eating these fish during pregnancy.
• Tobacco smoke: The American Lung Association states that 30 percent of all intrauterine growth retardation is a result of smoking during pregnancy. Children exposed to cigarette smoke may be born with weaker lungs. Such infants have higher incidences of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome than infants in the general population.