– Why exposure to pesticides during pregnancy is so risky and how to protect you and your baby
Pesticides are chemicals used to treat agricultural crops, backyard landscapes, indoor insect infestations, and prevent mosquito bites, but what you may not know is how pesticide exposure is harming you and your unborn baby. Avoid pesticides whenever possible and your baby will thank you.
1. Pesticides may lower your unborn baby’s IQ
A class of pesticides known as organophsphates may cause your baby to have a lower IQ if you’re exposed to these chemicals during pregnancy. By testing levels of the pesticides in the urine of pregnant mothers and then testing the children’s IQ at age 7, scientists found that the children with the highest exposures displayed IQs seven points lower than the national average.
Mothers with the least exposure seemed to have children with IQs seven points higher than the average. If you live or work in an agricultural setting where pesticides are applied on a regular basis, be sure that you avoid exposure during spray-days by leaving the area whenever possible and wearing protective clothing when you cannot.
2. Organophosphate pesticides also linked to ADHD
Organophosphate pesticide exposure during pregnancy has also been linked to higher rates of ADHD in children. Organophsophates are neurotoxins that may increase a boy’s likelihood of exhibiting attention problems when he’s older. In fact, they noted that a tenfold increase in exposure to this chemical correlated to a 500% increase in chances of developing ADHD.
Be sure to wash all surfaces in your home that will come into contact with food after pesticides have been applied – either indoors or outdoors. This will help to ensure that you do not accidentally ingest pesticides during pregnancy.
3. Pesticides may increase chances of miscarriage, preterm birth, and low birth weight
In a study published in the Reproductive Sciences journal called “Environmental Exposures and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes: A Review of the Science”, scientists found that exposure to pesticides and chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls were both associated with decreased fetal growth and length of gestation for pregnant women.
To protect yourself against these dangers, medical professionals recommend that you never apply pesticides in your home or garden yourself while pregnant. Instead, ask another member of your family to do so, or choose nontoxic, natural pest deterrents instead. An integrated pest management strategy is always preferable for you whether pregnant or not.
4. Exposure to chlorophenoxy herbicides linked to birth defects
In the same Reproductive Sciences study, scientists linked exposure to a class of chemicals called chlorophenoxy herbicides with birth defects. Another method of preventing accidental exposure to chemicals like these used in your outdoor space is to ensure all windows are closed and the air conditioning turned off during pesticide and herbicide application. This helps to make sure all fumes remain outside.
5. Exposure to pesticides may lead to higher chance of gestational diabetes
In research by Agricultural Health Study, scientists looked at the relationship between pesticide exposure during early pregnancy and the rates of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). They found that those mothers-to-be who mixed and applied pesticides in their first trimester of pregnancy were more than twice as likely to report GDM compared to those with no pesticide exposure.
The pesticides most associated with GDM were herbicides known as 2,4,5-T; 2,4,5-TP; atrazine; or butylate and three insecticides (diazinon, phorate, or carbofuran). Another method of protecting yourself while you’re pregnant from garden pesticides is to wear gardening gloves to prevent exposure to landscaping chemicals through your skin.
6. Pesticides may increase rates of childhood leukemia
A meta-analysis by the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has shown that childhood leukemia rates are higher in children who have either been exposed to residential pesticides or whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy.
The pesticide list in this study was very long, including insecticides, herbicides, and other residential pest control chemicals. When applying pesticides indoors, be sure to put all food containers and dishes away to avoid spreading the chemicals onto utensils that you will put in your mouth.
7. DEET-based insect repellents found in cord blood
A study that followed women who applied DEET-based insect repellents found that the chemical actually crosses the placenta and has been found in cord blood. Though scientists are still working on whether this could negatively affect fetal health, there definitely is concern.
A great way to avoid the need for personal pest control (such as bug sprays) is to ensure you stay indoors between dawn and dusk and to wear long pants and long sleeves while outdoors. These are natural, chemical-free ways to avoid mosquito bites and are healthier for you and for your unborn baby.
8. Chlorpyrifos may cause thyroid problems for female babies
Another study published by the Rodale Institute found that even in small doses, a pesticide known as chlorpyrifos could cause hormone-mimicking effects which could lead to disturbed brain function, altered thyroid levels, and learning delays in children whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy.
Though government agencies maintain that normal intake levels in foods treated with this chemical are safe, the study found that long-term, low-dose exposure can still cause negative health problems.
Though the USDA and other organizations say that pesticide levels in supermarket foods are acceptable, if you really want to protect yourself, buy organic produce only. Not only will this mean that you’re protected from food-borne pesticide exposure, but it’s also better for the planet – the soil and water in your community and other farming communities.
9. Higher rates of hypertensive disorders with pesticide exposure
In this study, scientists found that exposure to pesticides during pregnancy may increase the risk of hypertensive disorders. Wives of farmers in this Agricultural Health Study were tested with regards to their exposure to pesticide-related activities during the first trimester.
The take-home message from all of these studies should be that during pregnancy, any exposure to chemical pesticides is a risk to you and to your baby. Living an organic lifestyle – whether that means going chemical-free in the backyard, developing organic agricultural methods on the farm, purchasing organic foods, or choosing chemical-free personal pest control products and methods – is the only way to protect you and your baby.