There is a growing list of pregnancy do’s and don’ts for women to consider. A recent report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the UK has recommended that women err on the side of caution when it comes to many things that may not have previously been considered risky, from daily use of moisturizer and shower gel to purchasing new furniture and cars.
The report is based on growing concerns that the cocktail of chemicals we are exposed to in everyday life, including during pregnancy, may later on present risks we are currently unaware of.
“Laboratory research is uncovering new information on how some chemicals in everyday products interact with our bodies and there is concern that there may be impacts that we may one day need to take seriously,” said Andrew Maynard, Director of the University of Michigan (U-M) Risk Science Centre. “But much of this research is still inconclusive.”
“These days we are better at generating data than knowing what to do with it. We can measure the minutest quantities chemicals and research how these chemicals interact with our bodies. But we are still far from knowing the true effects on humans and unborn babies.”
So, should pregnant women then stop doing something that seems harmless and might even be good for them, because some day science might show that it wasn’t as healthy as they first thought?
“We tend to forget that almost everything we do, eat and interact with has some associated risks,” said risk communication expert Brian Zikmund-Fisher from U-M Department of Health Behavioral & Health Education. “If possible we want to avoid unnecessary risks, but we also need to remember that not every risk should be avoided.”
This raises the challenge of finding the right balance between risk and benefit.
“It doesn’t make sense to completely change your lifestyle because something might be considered dangerous in the future,” Brian said. “What needs to be considered is whether the risk of not doing something outweighs the potential risks associated with doing something that might be beneficial.”
“As an example, is it better to avoid buying a new car because you might be exposing yourself and the baby to potentially harmful chemicals? Yet, a new car may have state-of-the-art safety features that might protect your baby better than your old car does. There are risks with both of these options.”
Dana Dolinoy, an expert in endocrine disrupting chemicals from U-M Department of Environmental Health Sciences, adds that small amounts of these chemicals are likely to be in a lot of everyday products and eliminating these from your life can be very stressful and costly.
Also, due to labeling regulations, it is sometimes difficult to know whether the products that you’re substituting have these or other chemicals of concern in them or not.
“The key is to use everything in moderation and in the context of your lifestyle,” noted Dana.
There is still a long way to go in terms of having conclusive research on the effects of environmental chemical exposure, particularly on unborn babies.
“What is important is that someone somewhere is doing the right research on possible risks and effective ways of avoiding them so that people can make informed tradeoffs,” Andrew said.
In a special episode of Risk Bites Andrew takes a look at the risk-benefit tradeoffs that need to be considered when making decisions.