In Utero

Before a baby is born, critical development happens in all organs and tissues, including the rapidly growing brain, reproductive and endocrine (or hormone) systems. What babies are exposed to in the womb may have long-term health effects.

• The risk for attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities can be increased if a fetus is exposed to certain contaminants. For example, there are some fish that pregnant women should avoid because they contain methylmercury, which can adversely affect brain development. But there are types of fish that pregnant women should eat because they are rich in important nutrients.

• Exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollutants (including secondhand smoke) has been linked to adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weight and increased risk for developing asthma.

• Exposure to chemicals in the womb that affect the endocrine system may increase the risk of numerous types of cancer later in life. For example, animal studies indicate that pre-natal exposure to Bisphenol A (which is used in polycarbonate plastics, the lining of food cans and other products) may increase the risk of breast cancer later in life.


Breast Cancer Fund’s Report:  The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls

Collaborative on Health and the Environment’s Birth Defects and the Environment Peer-Reviewed Analysis

Collaborative on Health and the Environment’s Developmental Disabilities Peer-Reviewed Analysis

Environmental Health Bulletin: Body of Evidence–Reproductive Health and the Environment

Environmental Working Group and Commonweal’s The Pollution in Newborns report

National Institute for Occupaitonal Safety and Health’s The Effects of Workplace Hazards on Female Reproductive Health report

Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Adverse Birth Outcomes and Environmental Health Threats factsheet

Physicians for Social Responsibility’s What You Should Know About Avoidable Risks of Birth Defects and other Reproductive Disorders factsheet

UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health Reproductive Health resources