Summary of paper by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologistics on possible risk of chemicals in pregnancy

There's a scientific paper out today published by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologistics and co-written by Dr Michelle Bellingham and Professor Richard Sharpe which reports about the possible risks of chemicals in every day products to the development of your unborn baby.

This paper highlights that in our everyday life we are exposed to low levels of chemicals, which at higher levels could prove harmful. These chemicals include Bisphenol A that is found in drinks and food cans, and phthalate esters found in plastics, carpets, fabrics, personal care products ( eg moisturisers, deodorants, shower gel) and glue.

The reason for the potential worry is because these chemicals have the potential to interfere with hormone systems in the body involved with playing a key role in normal fetal development. They are thought to potentially be able to mimic or block endogenous endocrine hormone action to potentially disrupt normal fetal development. It is documented (although not having access to the supporting medical papers, I am relying on the report having sufficient evidence, controls, sample size etc.),that exposure to high levels of 4 or more of these different chemicals in rats have shown to produce adverse effects, which infers that the same may be true for humans. The difficulty and uncertainty lies in understanding whether there is a sufficient accumulative effect, if you're exposed to a number these chemicals at low levels.

It is very difficult to monitor what chemicals we are being exposed to especially if manufacturers aren't required to list the inactive ingredients in products that we use, some of which could include phthalates. Equally using products that are termed 'natural', 'non-toxic' and 'green', may not necessarily be so since use of these words aren't regulated.

The recommendations in the paper to pregnant women and to women breastfeeding suggests you should assume that there is risk present in using certain products, even though these may be minimal and eventually proven unfounded.

The co-authors suggest the following advice is followed by pregnant women/those breastfeeding

- Use fresh food rather than processed foods wherever possible
- reduce use of foods/beverages in cans/plastic containers, including their use for food storage
- minimise the use of personal care products such as moisturisers, cosmetics, shower gels and fragrances
- minimise the purchase of newly produced household furniture, fabrics, non-stick frying pans and cars whilst pregnant/breast feeding.
- avoid the use of garden/household/pet pesticides or fungicides (such as fly sprays or strips, rose sprays, flea powders)
- avoid paint fumes
- only take over-the-counter analgesics or painkillers when necessary
- do not assume safety of products based on the absence of 'harmful' chemicals in their ingredients list, or the tag 'natural' (herbal or otherwise)

I believe that many pregnant women will use their common sense in the interpretation of this

I think the key messages from the paper which we may not have previously be all fully aware of is
- the assumption that if a potentially harmful chemical isn't listed on the ingredients list, doesn't mean that it isn't still in the product, as it may be an inactive ingredient,
- don’t rely on a product being free from chemicals if it states it’s ‘green’ ‘non-toxic’ or ‘natural’ as these words aren’t regulated.

However that being said there still isn’t sufficient scientific evidence as to whether low level exposure to these harmful chemicals multiple times, will actually cause your baby any harm, and more research needs to be done to understand this further.