July 01, 2019
Lead Is Still a Threat During Pregnancy - Are You Being Exposed?
By: Cara Terreri | 0 Comments
If you think lead exposure is a thing of the past or something that only happens when you live in older, broken down buildings (like I did until recently), keep reading.
Unfortunately, lead is still very much a part of our environment. This is a problem because lead is still very much a toxin that causes health risks to unborn babies and developing children. If you're pregnant or a new parent, it's important to understand your risk of exposure to lead in the world around you.
Lead is absorbed into the body by breathing and through the mouth (ingestion). A much smaller amount can also be passed through the skin. Most of us have a small amount of lead in our bodies without any harmful effects. In fact, it's considered safe to have less than 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) in our bloodstream. Higher and more frequent exposure to lead that results in more than 5mcg/dL in the blood can cause problems for individuals and during pregnancy.
Higher and/or chronic or ongoing exposure to lead during or leading up to pregnancy (lead can be stored in teeth and bones and is released in the bloodstream during pregnancy) can cause several problems, including miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight, poor fetal growth, premature birth, and preeclampsia. Beyond issues with pregnancy and birth, higher levels of lead can also cause learning and behavior problems in children, ranging from mild to severe. The exact level of lead exposure at which health problems occur is not known.
Sources of Lead Exposure
The following are possible sources of lead. It's impossible to tell if something has lead by looking at it or smelling it. It must be tested in a lab. Sometimes, you can find recall information online if a particular food or toy has been found to contain lead. You can find out information about your water source by having it tested or looking online to see if your local water authority has information available about the water in your area.
- Job site, especially construction, plumbing, and auto refinishing
- Hobbies, including stained glass, jewelry making, or ceramic pottery
- Home (if built before 1978)
- Home remodeling/repair
- Drinking water
- Floodwaters after a natural disaster
- Imported candy, especially from Mexico
- Toys and toy jewelry (especially imported toys)
- Some traditional/folk medicines used in East Indian, Indian, Middle Eastern, West Asian, and Hispanic cultures
- Make up
Testing Yourself for Lead
The only way to determine if you've been exposed to high levels of lead is to have a blood test done. This is not a standard test given during pregnancy -- it must be specially requested.
Treating High Lead Levels
If a blood test reveals that you have high levels of lead in your blood your provider may order a second test to confirm the level. If it is confirmed, treatment will begin to stop further exposure to lead sources and to reduce the lead in your system. Depending on the level in your blood, your care provider may recommend taking calcium and iron supplements. If you have very high levels, chelation therapy may be needed.
Preventing Lead Absorption
Eating foods high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C can help absorb lead in your body and therefore protect you and your baby. Preventing exposure to lead means you must be aware of your environmental exposures. While it's impossible to know the possible toxins present in everything you come in contact with -- nor should you stress yourself out over trying to do so -- you can learn about the major potential sources that you come in contact with every day, like your home, your water, and your job environment.
To learn more about lead exposure and prevention, check out the following resources:
MotherToBaby Lead Fact Sheet
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Lead
March of Dimes: Lead and Your Baby
ACOG: Lead Screening During Pregnancy and Lactation
TagsExposures During Pregnancy Lead