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Chemicals and Other Toxins to Avoid During Pregnancy


How protect your baby from harmful substances in the environment


The environment is everything around us wherever we are — at home, at work or outdoors. Although you don't need to worry about every little thing you breathe in or eat, it's smart to avoid exposure to substances that might put your pregnancy or unborn baby's health at risk.

During pregnancy, avoid exposure to:

  • Lead – found in some water and paints, mainly in homes built before 1978.
  • Mercury – the harmful form is found mainly in large, predatory fish.
  • Arsenic – high levels can be found in some well water.
  • Pesticides – both household products and agricultural pesticides.
  • Solvents – such as degreasers and paint strippers and thinners.
  • Cigarette smoke


Keep in mind: We don't know how much exposure can lead to problems, such as miscarriage or birth defects. That is why it's best to avoid or limit your exposure as much as possible. Here are some simple, day-to-day precautions you can take:

  • Clean in only well-ventilated spaces. Open the windows or turn on a fan.
  • Check product labels for warnings for pregnant women and follow instructions for safe use.
  • Do not clean the inside of an oven while pregnant.
  • Leave the house if paint is being used, and don't return until the fumes are gone.


If you are exposed to chemicals in the workplace, talk to your doctor and your employer about what you can do to lower your exposure. Certain industries, such as dry cleaning, manufacturing, printing, and agriculture, involve use of toxins that could be harmful. If you are concerned about the safety of your drinking water, call your health department or water supplier to ask about the quality of your tap water or how to have your water tested. Or, call the Environmental Protection Agency's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791. Don't assume that bottled water is better or safer. Usually, bottle water offers no health benefits over tap water.


Source:, Office of Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Content last updated Sept. 27, 2010.


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