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Avoiding Lead Exposure During Pregnancy

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Why Is Exposure to Lead Dangerous During Pregnancy?

Lead is a metal that's found in the environment and many consumer products. It’s toxic and especially harmful for a developing fetus. Most people have a small amount of lead in their blood from these exposures. Fortunately, exposure to high lead levels is rare in the United States.

What Are the Risks to a Baby?

If a pregnant woman is exposed to lead, the lead in her blood can easily cross the placenta to the fetus. High lead blood levels during pregnancy increase the risk of miscarriage and can make the baby be born early or at a low birth weight. Even low levels of lead in a child can cause behavior and learning problems.

How Can I Protect Myself From Lead Exposure?

Homes built before 1978 could have lead-based paint. Lead in paint can cause problems when it chips or peels. Home renovation, repairs, and painting projects can release lead dust into the air. Some homes also might have lead pipes or copper pipes with lead solder through which lead can get into tap water.

If you have an older home, think that you may have lead piping or soldering, or are worried about lead exposure, you can have a professional come out to test your water, the dust in your home, the soil outside, and the paint in and around your home.

Make sure that anyone who removes any potentially lead-based paint from your home:

  • is a professional trained in removing lead paint (getting rid of lead-based paint isn't a do-it-yourself project)
  • removes it when you're not there
  • doesn't scrape, sand, or use a heat gun to remove the paint (these methods may send lead dust into the air)
  • thoroughly cleans the area right away after they're done

To help reduce potential lead levels in your tap water, run the water for 30 seconds before using it and/or buy a water filter that specifically says on the packaging that it removes lead.

What Else Should I Know?

Taking a prenatal vitamin and eating a balanced diet that is rich in iron, calcium, and vitamins C, D, and E can help lower lead in the body.

If you think you were exposed to lead, talk to your doctor about getting a blood lead test.

Date reviewed: January 2023