Dangerous Chemicals
and Pregnancy

The Effect of VOCs on the Unborn Baby

The health risks of VOC exposure should receive your full attention because of their ubiquitous prevalence, unintentional exposure, and greater concentration indoors. During pregnancy, exposure to certain VOCs may increase the risk for birth defects, neurocognitive impairment, asthma, and cancer.

Are VOCs Affecting Your Pregnancy?

Volatile Organic Compounds are chemicals that are emitted as gases from solids or liquids and easily evaporate into the air at room temperature. Thousands of products, many that we use or are exposed to every day, emit VOCs into the air. Even slightly elevated levels of these airborne chemicals could produce health concerns for pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and those who suffer from allergies and asthma.

In general, pregnant women are already well informed of the more obvious chemical dangers such as exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, pesticides, and even some household cleaning products. However, there are potentially hundreds of other chemical exposure risks in the home that often go undetected, or aren’t usually considered problematic because of their common nature.

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  • arts and crafts products – glues, permanent markers, photographic solutions, etc.
  • cleaners and disinfectants
  • wall coverings
  • furniture and furnishings
  • upholstery, fabric materials
  • moth repellents
  • air fresheners, and other scented products (candles)
  • cosmetics, perfumes, deodorants
  • read more, here.

These chemical contaminants are introduced to our bodies through inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion. As with all toxins, our bodies have defenses to combat this exposure and to expel them from the body.  But, those with weakened or immature defense systems are at an increased risk of adverse health effects from VOC exposure.  In the same way a pregnant woman can expose the fetus to tobacco smoke, alcohol, and medicine; a pregnant woman can also transfer VOC exposure to the fetus.

Recent Medical Research

Studies show that exposure to these type of chemicals contaminants during pregnancy can have adverse health effects on unborn babies, including low birth weight, birth defects, and premature births. Similarly, studies suggest that maternal exposure to air pollutants before and during pregnancy can alter the immune system of the infant thus increasing the risk of developing health conditions later in life, including asthma and allergies.

In addition to potential chemical exposures through the mother, infants are often exposed to high concentrations relative to their body weight after birth by renovations to the nursery, including painting, new furniture, new mattress, and antiseptic products (like baby wipes).

Even though pregnant women and their fetuses are at higher risk, as they are more susceptible to environmental toxicants, it is important that all those living in the home are also breathing clean air.

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  1. Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs.
  2. Use household products according to manufacturer’s directions.
  3. Do not store opened containers of unused paints and similar materials inside your home.
  4. Dispose of unused or infrequently used containers safely; buy in quantities that you will use soon.
  5. Never mix household care products unless directed on the label.
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