Lead and Pregnancy

Are you pregnant or planning a family? Exposure to lead in pregnancy can harm you, your developing baby, and the health of your child long after birth.

Harm to the Mother

  • Lead before pregnancy affects reproductive health
  • Lead can damage an adult’s organs and bodily systems, particularly the kidneys and nervous system.

Harm to the Fetus

Pregnant women exposed to lead can pass lead to their fetuses.

  • Lead passes through the placental barrier. This means that if the mother’s blood contains lead, the blood will carry the lead to her fetus.
  • High doses of lead can cause miscarriage, premature delivery and low birth weight.
  • Lead stored in a woman’s bones (where it accumulates over a lifetime) is released into her blood as the calcium from her bones is used to form the bones of her baby.

Harm to the Child

Exposure to lead in utero (while in the womb) can cause:

  • Premature birth
  • Small size and low growth-rate
  • Poor mental ability and learning difficulties
  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Damage to the kidneys
  • Behavioral problems

For more information, see Pregnancy, Lead and Your Baby, a brochure developed by the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program of the Ohio Department of Health.

Are You and Your Baby at Risk?

Take the Ohio Department of Health’s pre-natal risk-assessment to find out what in your own environment may expose you to lead. Add the following paragraph:

Pregnant women should not engage in any renovation, rehabilitation, painting or repair activities in homes built before 1978 because of potential lead hazards. If possible, they should not live or spend time in a pre-1978 home where these types of activities are occurring.

Pregnant women should be very careful about taking food supplements and herbal or folk remedies. Many of these products are not regulated and can contain lead, like calabash clay, which is used to treat morning sickness, or Sindoor, which can be used as a food additive.

How can you protect yourself and your baby?

There are many steps you can take.

Talk to your regular doctor and OB/Gyn. Tell them if you’ve been exposed to lead in the past or if you suspect current exposure. You may want to have your blood tested for lead. The Ohio Department of Health has developed a flyer for medical personnel on this topic titled, Identification and Management of Lead Exposure in Pregnant and Lactating Women. For in-depth medical guidance, see the CDC Guidelines for the Identification and Management of Lead Exposure in Pregnant and Lactating Women.

Learn about proper nutrition during pregnancy and about the foods that can counter lead-absorption:

  • The developing fetus requires calcium to build bones. It can get it from the food the mother eats and from the calcium stored in her bones. Since bones also store the lead that has accumulated in the body, this lead can be released with the calcium and harm the fetus. Eating meals rich in calcium can reduce the amount of calcium that is taken from the mother’s bones. Calcium is found in milk, yoghurt, cheese, and leafy green vegetables.
  • Vitamin C, found in citrus fruit, green and red peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and juices
  • Iron, from lean red meat, beans, cereals, and spinach
  • Zinc

You can find more information about lead and nutrition in the EPA brochure, Fight Lead Poisoning with a Healthy Diet. Check out other resources available through the EPA to learn more about:

  • Testing to see if you have lead at home– on painted surfaces , in drinking water, or in the soil, in consumer-goods
  • How to clean to control dust
  • How to renovate safely. Be sure that renovation projects, no matter how small, are conducted using lead-safe work-practices and in accordance with EPA and HUD regulations. Pregnant women and children should stay away from any project that disturbs lead-paint.
  • The importance of protecting your body from lead at work, and of preventing lead-dust from being transmitted to your home, car, and family.
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