Director of Programs
Two recent studies from the Harvard School of Public Health underscore the reproductive health impacts of exposure to phthalates. The studies found that exposure to phthalates may increase the risk of having a miscarriage and increase risk factors for gestational diabetes.
Phthalates are hormone-disrupting, synthetic chemicals found in many consumer goods like items made out of certain types of plastics, as well as cosmetics and fragrances. There are different types of phthalates, some may pose more harm than others.
The first Harvard study found that women with high levels of the phthalate di-(2-ethylhexyl) — more commonly known as DEHP — were 60% more likely to have a miscarriage before 20 weeks than women who had lower levels of DEHP. This study specifically researched women at a fertility clinic who were having difficulties becoming pregnant.
The second study showed that women with the highest level of monethyl phthalate in their bodies had double the risk of excessive weight gain when they were pregnant, compared with women who had lower concentrations. Monoethyl phthalate is the metabolite that results when your body is exposed to, and metabolizes, diethyl phthalate (DEP) — a phthalate commonly used in fragrances. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy is a risk factor for gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes increases the risks of pre-term birth and other birth complications.
Chemical contamination of women is a reproductive justice issue. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to know whether phthalates are present in consumer products because of trade secret policies, and a lack of labeling. As a result, women are being contaminated by these chemicals without our consent and, as these Harvard studies show, it appears to be impacting our ability to have a healthy pregnancy. This underscores the need for companies to have stronger chemical management policies that screen out harmful chemicals like phthalates.
Unfortunately, women right now have to bear the burden of researching how to avoid these and other harmful chemicals. For starters, use the resources and tips below to help reduce your exposure. And don’t forget to check out Women’s Voices guide to avoiding toxic chemicals during pregnancy and our Green Momma Party Kit.
Tips and Resources:
- Find cosmetics that don’t contain harmful chemicals using EWG’s Skin Deep Database.
- Avoid fragrance in cleaning and personal care products and other scented products.
- Check out Silent Spring’s 6 simple steps for avoiding phthalates in food.
- Avoid plastics with the numbers #3 or #7 and as much as you can, avoid products made out of polyvinyl chloride or PVC. Switch out your vinyl shower curtain with a fabric one.
- Take good care of your health by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising regularly to help boost your body’s natural defenses against toxic chemical exposure that can otherwise be hard to control.