A scientific paper from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in the UK is stirring up controversy. It suggests that household cleaning products, shower gels and packaging are some of the items pregnant women should avoid in order to minimize harm to their unborn child—despite the "current uncertainty surrounding their effects."
The RCOG paper suggests pregnant women should be made aware of the sources and routes of chemical exposure in order to minimize harm to their unborn child despite current uncertainty surrounding their effects. Recommendations made in the paper include minimizing the use of personal care products, avoiding paint fumes and use of all pesticides, and only taking over-the-counter medicines when necessary.
The paper recommends that the best approach for pregnant women is a ‘safety first’ approach, which is to assume there is risk present even when it may be minimal or eventually unfounded.
The authors explain that under normal lifestyle and dietary conditions, pregnant women are exposed to a complex mixture of hundreds of chemicals at low levels and exposure to such chemicals can occur through many avenues, including consumption of food, use of household products, over-the-counter medicines, as well as personal care products and cosmetics.
RCOG says while the consumption of herbal remedies or medicines, such as paracetamol, and use of household cleaning products, such as pesticides, are well-documented sources of chemical exposure, the paper points out the lesser recognized sources that could accumulate with the mixture effect posing potential harm.
The authors, for example, point out that it is not just the type of food that pregnant women consume posing a risk, but the handling equipment and packaging materials used to contain it.
In a press release, RCOG said, “The same caution is suggested for personal care products such as moisturizers, sunscreens and shower gels, as current legislation does not require manufacturers to name all potentially harmful chemicals, when used in low dose, on the product label.”
While there is much guidance on healthy lifestyle choices that women can incorporate during pregnancy, there is currently no official antenatal advice that informs women who are pregnant or breastfeeding of the potential risks that some chemical exposures could pose to their babies.
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,” said Dr Michelle Bellingham, Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow, and co-author of the paper. “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.”
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.”
The full SIP paper can be found here.