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Protecting your Pregnancy from Pollutants

Health Hazards to Anticipate When You Are Expecting


Pregnancy is one of the most magical, terrifying, life changing, overwhelming processes your body and mind can possibly go through, most notably though is the all consuming, instinctive sense of protection you have over the tiny baby inside you, growing and changing day by day. 

Protecting your baby comes with the standard and inevitable list of DON’TS! DON’T consume alcohol, DON’T overdo the caffeine, DON’T eat shellfish, soft cheese and runny eggs…

…But had you considered the very air you breath to be a potential source of harm to your little miracle? 


Secondhand smoke

A worrying statistic is that more than 80% of second had smoke is invisible and does not smell. Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina have warned that the inhalation of even second hand tobacco smoke has a significant chance of damaging your unborn baby’s brain. This type of indirect exposure to a harmful and highly toxic mix of chemicals have been proven to impair the important areas of your baby’s brain responsible for learning, memory and even emotional responses.

Professor Theodore Slotkin, of Duke’s department of pharmacology and cancer biology, states:

“This finding has important implications for public health, because it reinforces the need to avoid secondhand smoke exposure not only during pregnancy, but also in the period prior to conception, or generally for women of childbearing age.”

More worrying still is the suggested strong link between the inhalation of second hand smoke and the increased risk of miscarriage.

It has been estimated that upwards of 7,000 chemicals are present in second had smoke, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide are to name but a few and at least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancers, concluding that there is no safe level of exposure to this dangerous smoke. 


Household cleaning chemicals

Your nesting instinct may be kicking into overdrive the further along into your pregnancy and you may be tempted to clean, clean, clean in preparation for your new arrival. Before you begin however, it is worth noting that worryingly little appears to be known about the potential risks of the exposure to and inhalation of cleaning chemicals and subsequently their effect on the health of your growing baby.

The most common piece of advice given is to only spray chemical cleaners whilst in a well ventilated space ensuring there is a supply of clean, fresh air circulating the room. This doesn’t, however, prevent you from directly breathing in potentially harmful chemicals, especially aerosol cleaners which disperse into the air in a fine mist which you are much more likely to inhale. 

The question we must ask ourselves here is “are we positive that this is safe to breath in?” If we are unsure or there is little evidence to persuade us otherwise, it may be best to err on the side of caution.


Old paint

Desperate to decorate the nursery and strip the old wall paper? Be sure firstly that no lead based paint lies beneath. Lead based paint was banned by the U.S government in 1978 however older homes still carry the potential risk of containing this hazardous paint beneath layers of wallpaper. 

When a lead based paint is chipped or disturbed there is the great potential for lead dust to be released into the air and then inhaled in the process. Once this lead passes into the blood stream it is then able to pass through the placenta and be absorbed by your unborn baby, the consequence is the risk of premature birth, low birth weight and even developmental problems later in baby’s life.  


Chemicals in makeup

  • Phthalates: This chemical is typically added to perfume or nail polish in order to strengthen the effectiveness of other chemicals in the formula. Ingredients which should be avoided include dibutyl or benzylbutl, DBP, BzBP, DEP, DMP or diethyl. Concerns have been raised during recent studies about the potential dangers they pose with their use, high blood pressure, ADHD and diabetes have been linked with their usage as well as strong connections between exposure to prenatal phthalate and abnormal fatal development. 
  • Ammonia: This chemical is present in many home hair-dye kits. Although little is know about the effect this may have on your unborn baby during pregnancy it is safe to say that ammonia is an irritant of the skin and lungs therefore inhaling these chemicals that are in contact with your body directly for long periods of time when pregnant is best avoided. 


  • Formaldehyde: This chemical may present itself on labels as formaldehyde, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, dimethyl -dimethyl (DMDM), 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, hydantoin or bromopol. Although this chemical is being slowly phased out of products specifically target at babies due to successful campaigning from parenting groups, this well known cancer causing carcinogen is still abundantly found in adult beauty products such as eyelash glue, hair straightening treatments and nail polish.
  • Dihydroxyacetone: This more commonly presents itself as the ingredient DHA and is most widely found in self tanning lotion or sprays. This specific chemical reacts with the external stratum corneum or layer of dead skin on the surface of your body adding colour, this chemical can be inhaled during the application process and is again thought to be unhealthy for your baby as it can cross the placenta.


  • Toluene: This may present itself on labels as methylbenzene, toluol or antis 1a. An ingredient which is found commonly in mainstream nail polish, whilst being a suspected carcinogen, when found alongside formaldehyde and and phthalates a potent blend of toxins are formed which should be avoided at any time and especially in pregnancy.


  • Thioglycolic Acid: This chemical is likely to be listed in the label as mercaptoacetate, thiovanic acid, acetyl mercaptan or mercaptoacetic acid and is a common ingredient found in creams used for hair removal. While no current studies exist to show how this type of acid may harm your unborn baby when inhaled, concerns have been raised regarding the amounts allowed to be used in beauty products. The European union limits its usage to 5% of the total product whereas it is ‘acceptable’ to be a huge 15.2% of the the total product when made and sold in the U.S. The lack of current information we have about this potentially harmful product leads me to consider a safer alternative until studies suggest otherwise. 


As your protective instinct grows with each day your child is forming in the womb, the potential risks that ongoing exposure to all manner of inhaled toxic chemicals must be limited to better safeguard your homegrown human.