Take steps to protect your baby by investigating whether any substances or conditions at your workplace might prove hazardous to your baby's development. Always wear protective gear (gloves, eye mask, breathing mask), wash your hands frequently (this is good advice in any workplace), insist on thorough ventilation of your work space, and if necessary, transfer to a safer department. Workplace hazards to look for include:
Investigate your exposure to chemicals. If you're employed in the health care industry, for instance, these may include chemotherapy drugs, anesthetic gases, and ethylene oxide (used to sterilize medical equipment). These drugs are associated with miscarriage, and chemotherapy drugs may also raise the risk of birth defects. Do you work in a dental, medical, or veterinary office where you are exposed to nitrous oxide, which has been shown to cause birth defects? Does your work require you to use or be near solvents, paints, cleaning products, fumes, pesticides, chemicals such as mercury, carbon monoxide, benzene, or formaldehyde? Other chemicals to avoid include organic solvents -- nail-polish remover, paint thinner, certain types of alcohol -- because some research indicates that expectant moms exposed to these solvents during the 1st trimester are more likely to have babies with birth defects. You're most likely to be exposed to these solvents if you're a factory worker, graphic designer, or laboratory technician. Workers in semiconductor plants are also exposed to high levels of glycol ethers, which can raise the risk of miscarriage. Ask your employer for the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the products you use or contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
- Ionizing Radiation
Laboratory researchers who use instruments that emit ionizing radiation are at greater risk for miscarriage, and their babies may suffer birth defects as a result of the exposure. X-ray technicians and their babies are also at greater risk. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women avoid this type of radiation.
Lead is associated with an increased risk for miscarriage and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Lead exposure also puts your baby at risk for birth defects and neurological problems. If you work in an industry that uses lead, limit your exposure.
For more information about the effect of workplace hazards on reproductive health and the federal laws that protect the health, safety, and employment rights of pregnant women at work, contact the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health: 800-CDC-INFO or www.cdc.gov/niosh.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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