Pregnancy Pathway, Pregnancy – Exposure to Toxins and Infection

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Hot topic for today: Toxins and infections in pregnancy.

Pregnancy Exposure to Toxins and Infections

Pregnancy Exposure to Toxins and Infections

A mother-to-be needs to be aware of items that can have adverse effects on the health and development of her fetus, as well as her own health. Two of these factors are toxins and infections.

1. Toxins can be food, environmental factors, and medications, alcohol or drugs. Let’s start with food. Interestingly, many plants have slight toxins in them that can have a small negative impact during early fetal development. One theory of nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy is that this helps the mother’s body prevent these toxins from interfering with normal development. Pica – especially eating dirt that is largely clay – may be another manifestation of how the body strives to counter plant toxins, as clay can counteract some of the effects of these toxins. So, plant toxins can be one food source in early pregnancy.

Another source is food additives (things you cannot pronounce, so read the ingredients!). We have no idea how many chemicals and hormones added to foods affect fetal development.

NIH illustration of reading food label

NIH illustration of reading food label

Risk-aversion involves avoiding items that are risky. If you are not sure, don’t eat it. For up to date information, look at the FDA site on food safety or the NIH site on reading food labels.

Environmental factors that may affect fetal development can include air pollution, household cleansers, mold and other items encountered anywhere one goes. Things we breathe can be particularly dangerous, so be sure to keep cleanser use to simple items such as vinegar, ammonia or chlorine bleach. Wearing a mask while cleaning is also a good idea.

Medications, drugs or alcohol that might normally be considered safe for a non-pregnant person – something as simple as aspirin – can be dangerous as they affect blood clotting factors and threaten the placenta. Or, because they cross the placental barrier but cannot be metabolized by the immature fetal liver, they are toxic and induce damage to the fetus.

2. Infections are of concern, as well. It is possible that an active infection at the time of fertilization and implantation can contribute to dysfunction in pregnancy because it interferes with the normal immune responses of early pregnancy. Hypertension in pregnancy may be related to infection in the early days of pregnancy. Some infections – particulary sexually transmitted infections – are known to have detrimental effects on the baby’s health. Preterm premature rupture of membranes (P-PROM) almost always reflects active infection.

Taking Precautions: First, be sure to let your health care provider know about any illness or infection. Second, take care of yourself. Follow recommendations for frequent handwashing and carry sterile hand gel in your purse or backpack. Avoid places where hygiene might be compromised. Practice safe sex.