Mothers who were exposed to pesticides during their pregnancies have higher risks of having pre-term, low birth weight, or low IQ babies, according to several studies on the effect of pesticide exposure on pregnant women.
In a research on the effect of organophosphate pesticide on pregnant women, it was found that an expectant mothers exposure to pesticide may have effects to her developing fetus similar with that associated with tobacco smoking such as low premature delivery and low birth weight.
"Pre-term birth is probably the single most important factor for infant mortality," said Dr. Bruce, one of the researchers of the study, adding that preterm birth and low birthweight have also been linked to a range of future health problems, from cognitive problems to heart disease.
Virginia Rauh, Deputy Director of the Columbia University's Center for Children's Environmental Health, who is studying the potential effects of organophosphates on brain structure and function, explained that a deficit in growth or shortening of gestation can potentially have long-term effects on child health and well-being.
Studies have shown that a fetus exposed to chemical during a mother's pregnancy might result in childbirth taking earlier and the newborn could weigh less than when there's no such exposure. However, according to Dr. Tracey Woodruff, Director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco, a baby born at normal birth weight and not pre-term could still experience the adverse effects of chemicals from pesticides on their developing brain.
She cited recent findings by Harvard Medical School that exposure to pesticides of the mothers can result in a substantial loss in IQ among children. The same conclusion was reported by other studies such as a study financed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.
In all the studies it was found that women who had higher exposures to pesticides during pregnancy gave birth to children who eventually had lower I.Q. scores once they reached school age. "I think these are shocking findings," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai. "Babies exposed to the highest levels had the most severe effects. It means these children are going to have problems as they go through life."
According to medical experts, exposure to pesticides is particularly worrisome in the first trimester because it is during this time that the baby's nervous system is developing. And because many changes are happening in the body of the mother and the baby, the wrong chemicals can be very dangerous.
Pregnant women should be careful as exposure to chemicals can result in lower intelligence, dyslexia, higher risk for dropping out of school and a range of behavioral and developmental problems for their unborn babies, experts said. This is similar to the effects of exposure to lead on children that resulted in the removal of lead from gasoline, paint and various other consumer products.
In a research by the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program which involved more than 2,000 women, it was found that three in four pregnant women were exposed to chemicals from pesticides. According to the study, household exposure was frequent with the homes being treated for pests, either by the pregnant mother, or by professionals. Other exposures happened while working in the gardens using weed killers or insecticides or while using chemicals for treatment of fleas in pets. Occupational exposure is also common with women having jobs involving contact with pesticides
Thus, nearly all pregnant women carry pesticide residues in their bodies because they can get exposed everywhere. These chemicals accumulate in the fat deposits in the body and pass these on to their fetuses. Mothers can also pass on these chemicals to infants and young children through the breast milk while breastfeeding.
Pregnant women get exposed to harmful chemicals in the home from spraying pesticides for garden insects, fleas, mosquitoes, ants and cockroaches However, exposure to these pesticides also increases the risk increase for their baby to be born with oral clefts, neural tube defects, heart defects, and limb defects.
The safest rule is that pregnant women should avoid pesticides whenever possible. But if it cannot be avoided, a pregnant woman should try to minimize her exposure to pesticides since the degree of risk to the fetus has been found to be directly related to the amount of exposure. Minimal pesticide exposure could result to risks for neural tube defects in the baby or a higher rate of cleft palate defect, but with higher exposure, the risks can include defects of the heart and limbs.
It is wise for pregnant women to check on the labels of the pesticides before use. Fortunately, over the years there have remarkable advancements in the science of "safe" pesticides such as organic or natural pesticides.
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