Hidden danger for pregnant women

You may not know it, but many household products contain toxic substances called phthalates. Research shows these toxic substances may endanger everyone’s health, but pregnant women and their fetuses may be particularly vulnerable.

Chances are, you’ve never even heard of phthalates. But these toxins may be in places you would never think of like your shampoo, the dashboard and steering wheel of your car, your shower curtains and your insect repellents.

A study at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health in New York shows that when pregnant women experience a high level of exposure to phthalates, their babies are much more likely to have asthma later in their lives.

The data in the research shows that the asthma risk for kids between ages 5 and 11 increases 72 percent after they have been born to women with the highest levels of the phthalate butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP). For those with the most di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), the risk increases by 78 percent.

“Everyone from parents to policymakers is concerned by the steep rise in the number of children who develop asthma. Our goal is to try and uncover causes of this epidemic so we can better protect young children from this debilitating condition,” says researcher Robin Whyatt.

In 2009, several phthalates, including BBzP and DnBP, were been banned from toys and childcare consumer goods in the United States. Unfortunately, no one bothered to try to to protect babies in the womb by warning pregnant women about these chemicals. And phthalates are hardly ever listed on the ingredients lists of products.

Ways to limit your exposure to phthalates include:

  • Don’t ride in new cars. The so-called “new car smell” results from air-borne phthalates.
  • Don’t have new flooring installed while pregnant. New flooring is a rich source of phthalates that can be absorbed by the skin.
  • Use unscented products whenever possible. Fragrances in things like shampoos, hair spray and skin products consist of phthalates.
  • Avoid wrapping your food in plastic whenever possible. Never heat food in a plastic container.
Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.