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.