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Pregnancy: Chemicals, Cosmetics, and Radiation - Topic Overview

Chemical exposure

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.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 breast-feeding, take measures to avoid fish that may contain mercury, such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.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.otispregnancy.org.

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.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.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.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: July 23, 2012
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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