Air Quality Concerns for Pregnant Women

Apr 19, 2018

I can remember like it was yesterday when we took our firstborn home from the hospital.  My wife and I spent countless hours getting our daughter’s bedroom ready with new paint, furniture, and decorations.  In looking back at those preparations, I think that there was something else that I should have done; I should have made a greater effort in improving the air quality of our home prior to our trip to the hospital.  

The world that we live in now is significantly different than the world of over 50-100 years ago.  Today’s pregnant woman is exposed to a wide variety of contaminants that affect our air quality and can have several possible health effects on an unborn child.  Where can these contaminants be found? In a single word – everywhere.

Let me introduce to you a ten cent phrase – endocrine disrupting chemicals (or EDCs).  These chemicals can be found in flame retardants, pesticides, and plasticizers. According to the EPA, many of these chemicals can be found in your home and affect the indoor environment.  Endocrine disruptors have been linked to infertility, cancer, various diseases and reduced sperm counts . If you are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, try to avoid cribs, dressers, mattresses, and toys that contain plasticizers such as phthalates and BPA .  Testing is available to see if these chemicals are elevated in your home’s dust.

Sometimes, when we are considering what to paint the baby’s bedroom, there are more questions that need to be answered than pink or blue.  You may want to ask yourself “how elevated are the VOCs in this paint?” VOC stands for volatile organic compound. When paint is applied to a wall, the pigment stays and everything else off-gases into the air.  There could be health issues associated with VOCs when they are breathed in .  A better approach when selecting a paint, stain or varnish would be to use low or no VOC products, which are often water-based. In addition to being healthier, an added benefit is that it eliminates that new paint smell.  

While we are talking about it, also be aware of VOCs in such items as new particle board furniture and carpeting.  It would not be unusual to find elevated levels of the VOC of formaldehyde in these items – even in cribs! Most of the off-gassing will occur when these items are brand new.  If you do want to purchase a new piece of furniture or carpet, you may want to check with the manufacturer for VOC content or you might consider purchase low/no VOC items. You can find some of these low VOC items in the SPOT database.

We planned on having a family early on in our marriage, so we intentionally purchased a home with a baby’s room.  But some parents will go all out and perform extensive rehabbing for the child’s room. There are also dangers involved in a remodeling project due to construction dust.  During the process of sanding, sawing, and hammering, there will be the release of microscopic particles that are especially dangerous if you suspect that there is asbestos or lead in the home.  It is far better to avoid any major remodeling prior to or immediately after the birth of your child as a proper precaution. If it’s too late, a HEPA-based air purifier can help reduce dust particles.

The importance of air quality cannot be understated for pregnant women, unborn children, and newborns.  By reducing the contaminants in the air, we help our children have the best chance of growing and thriving in a healthy environment.