There is mounting evidence that exposure to a number of environmental chemicals can have adverse effects on a woman’s pregnancy and even her child’s developmental health.
A certain environmental chemical that has been linked to a wide array of complications, including birth defects, is the pesticide.
But aside from being a threat to expectant mothers and their child, a pesticide also poses risks to the environment, animals, and humans in general.
This article will focus on pesticides and its potential health effects on pregnant women and its negative impact to birth outcomes.
What Problems Can Pesticides Cause During Pregnancy?
Pesticide exposure at certain doses has been linked to numerous side effects and complications, including birth defects, low birth weight, premature birth, stillbirths, developmental delay in children, and even neurological disorders.
In fact, one specific pesticide has been the target of many lawsuits in the United States mainly due to its adverse health effects on humans.
This pesticide is sold under the brand name Paraquat. According to plaintiffs who have filed complaints in the Paraquat lawsuits, exposure to the pesticide can result in neurotoxic effects that could subsequently cause an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Similarly, pesticides also pose this risk to an unborn baby, as during pregnancy, the baby’s brain, including the organs and the nervous system are rapidly developing. Thus, during this phase, they can be more sensitive to the toxicity of pesticides.
In fact, according to a number of research, an unborn baby that has been exposed to pesticides during critical periods of the mother’s pregnancy may face an increased risk of developing the following health problems:
- birth defects
- childhood brain cancers
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- cognitive impairment and developmental delay
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Moreover, a particular study found an increased chance of preterm birth, also known as premature birth, in counties of California with a higher pesticide use compared to other counties that used lower levels of pesticides. Preterm birth is the birth of a baby at fewer than 37 weeks, as opposed to a full-term delivery at around 40 weeks.
On the other hand, early exposures to these chemicals can also affect a child’s development much later in life.
It can potentially contribute to a number of personality and behavioral changes as well as neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. This is one of the reasons why as an expectant mother, you should minimize exposure to environmental chemicals such as pesticides.
How Can Pregnant Women Be Exposed to Pesticides?
Pesticides can get into your system in several ways. It can be through inhalation, skin absorption, or ingestion. Similarly, you can also be at risk of pesticide exposure in more ways than one. For instance, it can depend on your location or in the form of everyday products that you use.
Exposure to Agricultural Chemicals
Specifically, you can be exposed to agricultural pesticides if you live near an agricultural setting where pesticides are being applied, mixed, and loaded.
Several journals and associations including the American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Neuroscience, Occupational Environmental Medicine, and many others have reported associations between agricultural pesticides and pregnancy problems, complications, birth defects, and miscarriage.
Maternal exposure to household pesticides or pest-control products used at home may also put a pregnant mother and her unborn baby at risk. Even though more substantial evidence is needed to prove this association, a report from California’s Defects Monitoring Program indicated that three out of every four women are exposed to indoor pesticides. This also puts the fetus to a certain amount of exposure to these potentially harmful substances.
The system was also able to observe pregnant women who are exposed to chemical pesticides used in gardening had a slight risk increase for neural tube defects, limb defects, heart defects, and oral clefts.
Similarly, women living within 1/4 mile from agricultural sites also had the same slight risk increase for neural tube defects.
A study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) Journal suggested that children may be more vulnerable to the carcinogenic or cancer-causing effects of pesticides, as the study indicated that prenatal exposure to indoor pesticides may elevate a child’s risk of developing leukemia.
A number of studies have shown that the greatest risk of pesticide exposure is during the first trimester or the first 3 months of pregnancy, when your baby’s brain is undergoing rapid development and changes. As such, you may want to avoid any circumstances where you can potentially come in contact with any harmful chemicals during this span of time.
Are Organic or Natural Pesticides Safer to Use?
A number of experts say that going organic does not necessarily equate to safer and better, as all chemicals, including natural ones, can potentially pose some risk if not handled properly. Some organic pesticides are also not tested for their toxic potential, as the EPA only applies the Reduced Risk Program to synthetic pesticides.
In fact, in some cases, they may even be worse than their synthetic counterparts. Moreover, according to a 2017 comprehensive review, there is not much difference between the nutrient content of organic and inorganic produce.
The most important thing to avoid these potential risks is to carefully read the warning label on the pesticide and insecticide packaging before applying the chemical.
Study: Few OB-GYNs Advise Women to Avoid Pesticides
Even though evidence has been mounting on the link between pesticide exposure and its negative effects on a woman’s reproductive health and a child’s developmental health, a recent study found that doctors have a hard time explaining the impact of environmental chemicals to their pregnant patients since they only have a limited amount of time to talk and they do not also have enough information on the effects of these substances.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that exposure to environmental toxins is rarely discussed with patients who are pregnant. This, despite a national survey showing that 80 percent of doctors agree that they should play an important role in reducing patients’ exposure to potentially harmful toxins.
The study added that out of 2,500 respondents, only one in five OB-GYNs had a conversation with pregnant patients about these toxins, and just one in 15 said that they received training on the adverse effects of toxic chemicals to a woman’s reproductive health.
Meanwhile, more studies are being conducted to prove the profound effects of environmental toxins on fetal growth. In fact, a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives shows that pesticide exposure can elevate a woman’s risk of giving birth to a child with autism.
How Can I Minimize My Exposure to Pesticides?
Perhaps the safest plan is to avoid applying and mixing pesticides, whether for indoor or outdoor use, during your pregnancy. It is important to keep in mind that the most crucial time when it comes to pesticide exposure is the first trimester.
Therefore, a pregnant woman should especially avoid these chemicals during this stage in her pregnancy, when the baby’s neural tubes and nervous system are rapidly developing.
If possible, have someone else apply the chemicals if you really must treat your property with pesticides. You should also leave the area for the specific amount of time indicated in the pesticide label.
Most importantly, follow the instructions on pesticide application indicated on the packaging. On the other hand, if you are a pregnant woman living in an agricultural field where pesticides are being used, it is recommended that you close all entry points where fumes can enter the house whenever outdoor pesticides are used.
Or you can also err on the side of caution and avoid these areas which may be risky for you and your child.