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Chemicals and Solvents (Birth Defect Information: Exposures and Risk Factors)

MO-08-0080 CBDMP


Chemicals (Pesticides, Solvents and Colorants)

Expectant mothers should use caution as they consider possible exposures to chemicals from their activities at home and in the workplace. Common chemicals that may increase the risk of birth defects are pesticides, solvents and colorants. Even seemingly harmless hobbies may create exposures.1

The ways in which a woman may come into contact with a chemical are through inhalation, ingestion, and in some cases, absorption through the skin. Most of the time, in order for chemical exposure during pregnancy to be harmful it would have to be in large doses over a long period of time.1 Chemicals can either pass from your blood and through the placenta or be absorbed into the blood stream, both resulting in exposure to the baby.2

Exposure to harmful chemicals during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, slow growth and birth defects. The most sensitive time of pregnancy is during the first trimester (12 weeks), when organs and limbs are being formed; therefore, a fetus exposed to harmful chemicals during this time may be born with a birth defect. Babies exposed to harmful chemicals after the first trimester are more likely to have slow growth and problems with brain development.2

Pesticides, solvents and colorants are found in a wide variety of everyday products and in the environment; for example:

  • DDT/DDD/DDE (use is banned in the U.S.)
  • Insecticides
  • Herbicides
  • Fungicides
  • Gasoline
  • Motor oil
  • Paint thinner
  • Polyurethane
  • Spray paint
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Nail polish remover
  • Many cleaning products
  • Pigments
  • Metallic and organic dyes
  • Colored wall and furniture paints
  • Fabric dyes and  paints
  • Permanent hair dye
  • Nail polish
  • Corroded metal
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methotrexate (MTX)
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Arsenic
  • Accutane
  • There are many steps a woman can take in order to minimize exposure to chemicals. Some of these include:

  • Wear protective gear, such as gloves and/or a facemask
  • Do not paint
  • If you have indoor cats, let someone else change the litter
  • Be well informed as to what types of fish contain high levels of mercury and avoid eating them during pregnancy
  • Avoid pesticides
  • If you use chemicals at work, find out what they are and ask your health care provider if your exposure might harm you or your baby.
  • Additional Resources

    California Teratogen Information Service – Pregnancy Risk Information Line

    Poison Control – California

    California Department of Public Health (CDPH)
    Occupational Health Branch (OHB)
    Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS)
    510-620-5757 (main)
    866-282-5516 (workplace hazard helpline)

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)


    1. (2007, April). Environmental risks and pregnancy. Retrieved May 28, 2009, from March of Dimes Web site: http://www.marchofdimes.com/aboutus/681_9146.asp
    2. (2007, August 2). If i'm pregnant, can the chemicals i work with harm my baby?. Retrieved May 29, 2009, from Hazard Evaluation System and Information Services Web site: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/hesis/Documents/pregnant.pdf (PDF)Opens a new browser window.
    Last modified on: 2/23/2015 10:39 AM