Pesticides During Pregnancy – is There a Risk?

More and more information has been coming out about the risks to developing fetuses caused by pesticide exposure during pregnancy. In particular, the spotlight is being aimed at organophosphates, the most commonly and widely used pesticide used to treat interiors and exteriors of homes,
businesses, parks, fruit, vegetable and cotton crops, among other applications.

There are over 100 types of organophosphates, and it is reported by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that “800 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients are applied in the United States each year, with organophosphates (OPs) the most commonly applied class of insecticides.” It’s interesting – or frightening – to note that organophosphates were originally developed during the 1930s and 1940s as human nerve gas agents. The endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in pesticides kill insects (and can kill other creatures including birds and small mammals) by attacking their nervous systems, which can also harm the rapidly developing nervous system of a fetus in the first trimester of pregnancy.

You can be exposed to organophosphates in a number of ways, all of which contribute to the buildup of these chemicals in your body. These include:

  • Eating non-organic foods
  • Touching plants or soil that has been treated with pesticides
  • Breathing pesticides in the air (from agricultural drift, neighborhood yard treatments, etc.)
  • Drinking or touching water contaminated by runoff

Many journals, including the American Journal of Public Health, Annals of Oncology, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, among a number of others, have all warned about connections between pesticide exposure and miscarriages, birth defects, neuro-behavioral issues, reduced fertility, and pregnancy complications. Additional reports include:

  • The California Birth Defects Monitoring Agency states that pregnant women exposed to gardening pesticides had an increased risk of delivering a baby with heart defects, neural tube defects, oral clefts, and limb defects. The agency estimates that three out of every four women are exposed to pesticides in their homes.
  • Time magazine reported in March 2019 that one of the largest studies on the risks of pesticide exposure to developing fetuses and newborns showed a link to a higher risk of autism.
  • The PNAS journal published an extensive article showing “consistent associations of prenatal organophosphates (OP) with poorer cognitive function and behavior problems.”
  • The National Institutes of Health published this finding: “Compelling evidence indicates that prenatal exposure at low levels is putting children at risk for cognitive and behavioral deficits and for neurodevelopmental disorders.”

A two-year study reported in the Journal of Women’s Health Care looked at the delivery outcomes and babies of pregnant women who were exposed to organophosphates compared to pregnant women who were not exposed. The results showed that the women who were exposed to organophosphates had pre-term babies with lower birth weights and smaller heads than those who were not exposed.

And it’s not just babies in utero that can be damaged by organophosphate pesticides – children exposed to these harmful chemicals face serious health risks including childhood brain cancer (47 percent higher rate), autism, endocrine disruption, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), neurodevelopmental delays, and cognitive impairment. A report published in the journal Pediatrics states that these chemicals can also increase the risk of adult health problems later in life, including obesity, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

There are a number of ways you can reduce your exposure to dangerous pesticides. Because there are so many pesticides in food (causing these chemicals to build up in your body), buying organic is always the best choice. If a total organic diet is cost-prohibitive, focus on organics for the produce your family eats most often. Avoid the “dirty dozen” types of non-organic produce that are highest in chemicals, and scrub produce before eating. You can also grow some of your own produce – even if you’re in an apartment or your home has only a patio or very little property, you can grow veggies in containers using organic soil. There are many other natural ways to eliminate or minimize exposure to pesticides – including eliminating the use of chemical flea and tick products on your pets – without using harsh, potentially damaging chemicals. Check online to find the right products for your needs.

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