Pregnancy Pathway, Pregnancy – Exposure to Toxins and Infection

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.

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