2am mumsThe Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has issued a warning to expectant mothers over the dangers of chemical exposure to their unborn child.

There are currently no guidelines or official antenatal advice on the issue of chemical exposure and the risks to unborn babies, yet exposure to considerable amounts of environmental chemicals has been linked to adverse effects in women and children, including pre-term birth, low birth-weight, congenital defects, miscarriage and impaired immune development.

As a result of the lack of guidelines, RCOG has published a guidance paper warning about the harm posed by chemicals. The new paper, titled Chemical exposure during pregnancy: Dealing with potential, but unproven, risks to child health, aims to ensure women can make an informed choice about the dangers posed by potentially harmful, but as yet unproven, substances.

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

Use fresh food whenever possible
Practical recommendations made in the paper include:
• Using fresh food whenever possible by reducing foods in cans/plastic containers,
• Minimising the use of personal care products,
• Avoiding paint fumes and use of all pesticides
• 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: “While there is no official advice on this topic available to pregnant women, 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.”

Practice approach that pregnant women can take
Professor Richard Sharpe, Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Reproductive Health, the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the paper, said:

“For most environmental chemicals we do not know whether or not they really affect a baby’s development, and obtaining definitive guidance will take many years.

“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.”