Environmental Hazards and Toxins

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What substances should I avoid at work?

Some substances can be harmful to you and your fetus once you become pregnant. It is a good idea to identify potential risks before you get pregnant so you can find ways to avoid them or reduce your exposure. Here are some common risks you may face in your daily life:

  • Toxic substances such as lead, mercury, pesticides, dry-cleaning fluids and paint or paint thinners.
  • Ionizing radiation as found around X-ray machines or in nuclear medicine procedures.
  • Anesthetic gases used for medical and dental procedures.
  • Childhood viruses encountered by teachers and health care workers.
  • Secondhand smoke from others' cigarettes, cigars or pipes.
  • Strenuous work, including prolonged standing or heavy lifting.
  • Household cleaners with strong odors, paint and hobby glue.
  • Raw fish or meat and unpasteurized milk as they can contain bacterial contaminants that cause listeriosis.
  • Cat litter boxes and contact with garden or other soil as they can expose you to toxoplasmosis.
  • Heat from hot tubs or saunas. In the early stages of pregnancy, prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to neural tube defects in the fetus. It’s safe to be in water cooler than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid (or at least limit your time to ten minutes in) saunas, steam baths and hot tubs.

To find out how much exposure to any of these hazards could be dangerous, visit mothertobaby.org.

What is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a bacterial disease you can get from eating some soft cheeses, undercooked meat and fish, and prepared meat products such as cold cuts and sausages. The possible consequences are severe and include miscarriage. It is not very common, but about one-third of the cases in the United States occur in pregnant women.

How can I avoid getting Listeriosis?

  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources.
  • Thoroughly cook leftover or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs.
  • Heat all meals to steaming.
  • Strictly observe expiration dates on prepared food.
  • Avoid unpasteurized milk/milk products.
  • Avoid unpasteurized cider and apple juice.
  • Avoid unpasteurized soft cheeses. Most cheeses produced in the United States are pasteurized, but watch out for imported soft cheeses.
  • Wash all raw fruit and vegetables before eating.
  • Store raw meat separately from all other foods.
  • Use hot water and soap to wash your hands, knives and cutting boards after handling raw foods.
  • Clean kitchen sponges by washing them in the dishwasher.

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a common parasite that can seriously harm a fetus. The parasite is most often spread through exposure to cat droppings or eating contaminated raw or undercooked meat. If you have always been around indoor/outdoor cats, it is likely you already have antibodies against contracting toxoplasmosis. If you've had toxoplasmosis in the past, you may be immune.

Many people who have toxoplasmosis don't know they have it because symptoms are mild and flu-like. Pre-pregnancy testing for toxoplasmosis is not routine, so if you think you may have been exposed, ask your health care provider for a test.

How can I avoid getting toxoplasmosis?

  • Have someone else empty the cat's litter box when you are pregnant. If you have to do it yourself, wear rubber gloves and a protective breathing mask and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Take glove and mask precautions when gardening, since the soil may be contaminated.
  • Don't feed your cat raw or undercooked meat.
  • Keep your cat indoors, as it can be infected by eating birds or mice.
  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources.
  • Thoroughly cook leftover or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs.
  • Avoid unpasteurized milk/milk products.
  • Avoid unpasteurized soft cheeses. Most cheeses produced in the United States are pasteurized, but watch out for imported soft cheeses.
  • Store raw meats separately from all other foods.
  • Use hot water and soap to wash your hands, knives and cutting boards after handling raw foods.

Does any of this affect my baby-to-be’s father?

Yes. Studies have shown that a man's sperm can be affected by workplace and other chemical exposures and that the effects on pregnancy are most likely to occur from exposures in the three months before conception. This is because sperm matures in the testes over several months. A father's exposure to chemicals, such as some pesticides, has been linked to miscarriage and premature babies so talk with your partner or spouse about any possible risks he is facing at home or work.