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Gynaecologists want pregnant women warned of unintentional exposure to potentially damaging chemicals

RCOG suggests pregnant women only eat fresh food

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 05 June 2013

Pregnant women should be made aware of the sources and routes of chemical exposure in order to minimise harm to their unborn child despite current uncertainty surrounding their effects, say experts from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in a new Scientific Impact Paper.

Exposure to considerable amounts of environmental chemicals has been linked to adverse health effects in women and children, including pre-term birth, low birthweight, congenital defects, pregnancy loss, impaired immune development, as well as impairment of fertility and reproduction in both the mother and child in later life. However, there is currently no official antenatal advice that informs women who are pregnant or breastfeeding of the potential risks that some chemical exposures could pose to their babies.

The Scientific Impact Paper, Chemical exposures during pregnancy: Dealing with potential, but unproven, risks to child health, outlines the current issues surrounding chemical exposure during pregnancy and offers advice for women to make informed decisions.

The chemicals which could potentially pose a risk are found in food, household products, over-the-counter medicines, as well as personal care products and cosmetics. The authors point out that it is not just the type of food that pregnant women consume posing a risk, but the handling equipment and packaging materials used to contain it. The same caution is suggested for personal care products such as moisturisers, sunscreens and shower gels, as current legislation does not require manufacturers to name all potentially harmful chemicals, when used in low dose, on the product label.

The paper recommends that the best approach for pregnant women is a ‘safety first’ approach, which is to assume there is risk present even when it may be minimal or eventually unfounded.

The authors recommend that pregnant women eat fresh food whenever possible and reduce consumption of foods in cans/plastic containers. They should also minimise the use of personal care products, avoid paint fumes and use of all pesticides, and only taking over-the-counter medicines when necessary.

Dr Michelle Bellingham, Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow, and co-author of the paper, said: “There is much conflicting anecdotal evidence about environmental chemicals and their potentially adverse effects on developing babies. The information in this report is aimed at addressing this problem and should be conveyed routinely in infertility and antenatal clinics so women are made aware of key facts that will allow them to make informed choices regarding lifestyle changes.”

Professor Richard Sharpe, Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Reproductive Health, the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the paper, said: “This paper outlines a practical approach that pregnant women can take, if they are concerned about this issue and wish to ‘play safe’ in order to minimise their baby’s exposure. However, we emphasise that most women are exposed to low doses of chemicals over their lifetime, which in pregnancy may pose minimal risk to the developing baby.”

Professor Scott Nelson, Chair of the RCOG Scientific Advisory Committee, added: “There are growing concerns over everyday chemical exposure effects because many chemicals have the potential to interfere with the hormone systems in the body, which play key roles in normal foetal development.”

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