Some environmental toxins, such as mercury and lead, can pass from a mother to her unborn child. A woman eating fish high in mercury during pregnancy can harm the unborn baby’s developing nervous system. Exposure to high levels of lead during pregnancy increases risk for miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, and developmental delays.
Research on reproductive health outcomes has improved understanding of the risks of several other hazards found in the environment. However, results from research regarding the role that specific environmental hazards play in these outcomes have been inconsistent. Some studies have found increased rates of poor reproductive health outcomes. Other studies have found no effect.
There is still limited scientific evidence in the role environmental factors play in reproductive health outcomes. Some examples where more data is needed include:
Exposure to secondhand smoke by nonsmoking pregnant women as a risk factor for some poor birth outcomes
A link between air pollution and poor reproductive health outcomes
Pesticides or chemicals that are associated with fetal death:
Few studies of environmental hazards and reproductive health outcomes have examined the combined effects of exposure to multiple pollutants, or exposure to pollutants together, with stresses such as living in poverty, crime, poor health, and lack of access to medical care.