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Reducing Lead Exposure during Pregnancy
By Laura E. Stachel
In the past, the use of lead in paint, gasoline and many industries resulted in widespread exposure to children and adults. In the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency banned lead from gasoline and house paint. However, many people remain exposed to high levels of lead through their home, work or hobbies.

Women with high lead exposure during pregnancy have a higher rate of preterm delivery, miscarriage and stillbirth. If a pregnant woman breathes lead dust or swallows lead, it enters her blood and is able to pass to her unborn baby. In utero exposure increases the risk for subtle learning and behavioral problems in childhood.

Women at greatest risk are those with occupational exposure, women engaged in specific crafts, and women living in older homes with crumbling or peeling lead-based paint. It's estimated that 80 percent of homes build before 1977 have lead-based paint. The risk of lead exposure is highest when paint deteriorates or during home remodeling. Another potential source of lead exposure is drinking water in homes with lead pipes or plumbing with lead soldering.

Lead accumulates in our bodies throughout our lifetime and is stored in our bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium is recruited for fetal bone formation. This is particularly true if a woman is deficient in dietary calcium.

Women who have been exposed to high levels of level should discuss this with their doctor and have their blood level checked.

The following are suggestions to reduce lead exposure for pregnant and lactating women:

1. Stay out of homes in which lead-based paint is being removed. The process of sanding and scraping the paint generates lead dust. If you plan on remodeling an older home, consider moving temporarily to another location and hire a licensed contractor to do the work. It's advisable to return to the home only after it has been cleaned, inspected and tested for lead dust by an independent lead inspector.

2. For cooking and drinking, use only cold water and run the faucet for 30 to 60 seconds before using it, especially if you haven't used your water for a few hours.

3. Eat a healthy diet rich in calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin C. Adequate calcium intake decreases the amount of lead released from the bones. One study showed that women who took prenatal vitamins had lower lead levels than women not taking vitamins.

4. If you have lead paint in your home, paint over it with latex paint or hire a professional to safely remove it.

5. Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience a strong desire to eat soil, chalk or chips of clay pottery. This is a condition called pica.

6. If a member of your family works in an industry with high lead exposure, he can bring lead dust home on his clothes, hair, shoes and skin, passing the dust to others in the family. It's best for him to shower and change clothes before coming home, and to launder his work clothes separately.

7. Avoid folk medicines and cosmetics that contain lead. Greta and Azarcon, two remedies used to treat an upset stomach, contain lead. Kohl and Surma are cosmetics that contain lead.

8. Avoid crafts or hobbies that could expose you to lead, such as pottery, stained glass or refinishing furniture. Read the labels on arts and crafts supplies carefully to identify materials that may contain lead.

9. Do not store food and liquids in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain.

For more information on lead, contact the EPA at Or, call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD.