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Pregnancy Risks at Work and at Home

On the Job

When it comes to cleaning products and other household chemicals, you're probably most concerned with how well they work. But now that you're pregnant, you may wonder if they could harm your baby. The safety of your workplace may give you pause, too. Fortunately, most women don't need to worry about these issues, as long as they take the necessary precautions and keep the lines of communication open with their health-care providers.

Research confirms that chemicals used in certain occupations can be harmful to an unborn baby. However, you would have to be exposed to a significant amount of the most hazardous substances in order for them to impact your pregnancy. Most workplaces have preventive measures in place to help make sure that doesn't happen.

Health-care workers, for example, can be exposed to a host of dangerous chemicals. Anesthetic gases, ethylene oxide (used to sterilize medical equipment), and chemotherapy drugs are all suspected of increasing the risk of miscarriage. Chemo drugs have also been associated with birth defects. But most hospitals seem to have rid the operating room of anesthetic gases and routinely measure the amounts in the air. If you work in a hospital or medical office that uses these chemicals, make sure such a system is in place. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that all pregnant or nursing women who work with chemotherapy drugs be fully informed about the risks of these types of chemicals and given other duties if requested.

Organic solvents, such as different types of alcohol, nail polish remover, and paint thinner, are also hazardous. A 1999 Canadian study found that women who were exposed to solvents on the job during their first trimester of pregnancy were about 13 times more likely than unexposed women to have a baby with a major birth defect, like spina bifida (open spine), clubfoot, heart problems, and deafness. The women in the study included factory workers, laboratory technicians, artists, graphic designers, and printing industry workers.

Other studies have found that workers in semiconductor plants who were exposed to high levels of solvents called glycol ethers were almost three times more likely to miscarry than unexposed women. Glycol ethers are used in jobs that involve photography, dying, and silk-screen printing.

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