Your unborn baby in the womb may be highly susceptible to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).

During pregnancy, you can be exposed to EDCs, and these may reach your baby by crossing the placenta.

Exposure to chemicals in the womb can cause health problems. Some of these may only become evident later in life.

Exposure in the womb to certain EDCs may cause an increased breast cancer risk later in life.

Our tips to reduce your risk

Check the ingredients of cosmetics and personal care products for EDCs.

Try to use fragrance-free products.

If you can, buy organic food and avoid pre-packaged food.

Use glass or stainless steel to store your food and water.

Dust and vacuum regularly.

Why is my unborn baby highly susceptible to chemicals?

Your unborn baby is more susceptible to harmful chemicals because the system that our body uses to eliminate toxins and chemicals only develops after birth. For this reason, even low levels of chemicals that are considered safe in adults may be harmful to an unborn baby.

How do EDCs reach my baby?

During pregnancy, you can be exposed to EDCs from various sources, including food and water. When these chemicals enter the mother’s blood, they can cross the placenta, which is the organ providing oxygen and nutrients to the baby. The placenta acts as a partial barrier stopping some substances from crossing it while allowing other chemicals to pass through and reach the baby.

EDCs have been found in the amniotic fluid (the liquid surrounding the baby) and the umbilical cord.

What are the effects of chemical exposure on my unborn baby?

If your baby is exposed to chemicals while in the womb this may affect the development of their brain, nervous and reproductive systems and may impact their cancer risk later in life, such as breast cancer risk. More research is needed to understand the full effects over time.

However, we already know that drinking alcohol whilst pregnant can affect the health of your unborn baby.  Alcohol can cross the placenta and may affect the brain and physical development of your baby. This is known as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

We therefore recommend that a precautionary approach should be taken to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals whilst pregnant.

How does chemical exposure in the womb increase breast cancer risk later in life?

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is an EDC that was used as anti-miscarriage drug until the 1970s and is no longer in use. The daughters of mothers who were prescribed DES during pregnancy have an increased risk of developing breast cancer later in life. The same was found for DDT, an insecticide for agricultural use now banned worldwide.

Exposure to other EDCs may also indirectly affect breast cancer risk. EDCs may promote other known breast cancer risk factors, such as early puberty and increased breast density. In animal studies, exposure to EDCs in the womb caused changes to the breast related to higher breast density. A higher breast density is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.

While the link between DES and breast cancer is clear, for most other EDCs more research is needed to understand how exposure in the unborn baby may affect breast cancer risk later in life.

For more details and references, please see our Critical Windows of Susceptibility for Breast Development science review.

Please see our leaflet on how to protect yours and your baby’s health.

Help prevent breast cancer in future generations

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