Pregnant? 5 Household Products That Could Be Harmful to Baby’s IQ

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By Anisa Arsenault, Associate Editor
Updated February 28, 2017
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If you’re pregnant, you’re already likely on high alert about things you should steer clear of (foods, activities, products, medicines … and the list goes on) — for both you and your unborn baby’s health. Now there may be more products you’ll want to avoid.

Two common chemicals found in the home, di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) and di-isobutyl phthala (DiBP), may be harmful to your baby’s IQ, reports a  new study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

And they’re found in everyday products we typically don’t think twice about using: dryer sheets, lipsticks, hairspray, nail polishes and even soap are among those items containing phthalates.

The study found that mothers exposed to high levels of these chemicals during pregnancy gave birth to children who averaged six IQ points lower than those women exposed to lower levels. While several phthalates have been banned from children’s toys and products in the U.S. since 2009, the health of a developing fetus exposed during a woman’s pregnancy hasn’t been carefully evaluated until this study.

Researchers followed 328 low-income New York City mothers and children, assessing exposure to four types of phthlates during a mother’s third trimester. The children were then given IQ tests at age 7. Not only were DnBP and DiBP tied to IQs between 6.6 and 7.6 points lower, they were tied to IQ drops in specific areas: perceptual reasoning, working memory and processing speed.

“The magnitude of these IQ differences is troubling,” said senior author Robin Whyatt, DrPH. “A six- or seven-point decline in IQ may have substantial consequences for academic achievement and occupational potential.”

“There is no legislation governing [phthlates] exposure during pregnancy, which is likely the most sensitive period for brain development,” added lead author Pam Factor-Litvak, PhD.

How can you protect your unborn baby, especially given that both DnBP and DiBP are widely found in products we use everyday but are rarely listed in ingredients in which they’re found? The best precaution includes avoiding microwaving food in plastics, staying away from scented products like air fresheners and dryer sheets, and not using recyclable plastics labeled 3, 6 or 7. (The triangle made out of arrows that you usually disregard on plastic? That has a number in it which corresponds to the types of chemicals it contains.)

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