Pregnancy: Chemicals, Cosmetics, and Radiation
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.footnote 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 breastfeeding, take measures to avoid fish that contain high levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, bigeye tuna, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.footnote 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. Go to the website https://mothertobaby.org (from the Organization of Teratology Information Services) for more information about the effects that chemicals can have on a fetus.
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.footnote 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.footnote 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.
- Shannon MW (2007). Lead. In MW Shannon et al., eds., Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose, 4th ed., pp. 1129–1146. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2017). Eating fish: What pregnant women and parents should know. U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm. Accessed April 3, 2017.
- Cunningham FG, et al. (2010). General considerations and maternal evaluation. In Williams Obstetrics, 23rd ed., pp. 912–925. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2009). Air travel during pregnancy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 443. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 114(4): 954–955.
Current as of: June 16, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of: June 16, 2021