Chemicals & Cleaning Products
Q. I have OCD – I wash my hands frequently - and I am pregnant. I just researched sodium laurel sulfate on the Internet and I am freaking out that I have harmed my baby by using soap that contains this chemical. Please advise.
A. To a certain degree, I think a lot of pregnant women have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), especially with first pregnancies. Microwaves, hairdryers, computers, certain chemicals and various foods can be questionable risks to a developing fetus. It's a natural instinct to obsess about every little thing that could possibly harm your baby. I can only imagine how trying it must be with a pre-existing OCD.
During my first pregnancy, I, too, had a scare over sodium laurel sulfate, which is found in almost every soap, shampoo and detergent on the market today. It has been proven to be toxic to fetuses of pregnant laboratory animals. Although I’m not certain of the conditions of these experiments, I believe the animals were probably exposed to extremely large amounts of sodium laurel sulfate, or it wouldn't be so widely used in today's products. Large corporations using this chemical compound would surely fear a lawsuit.
My advice to you and all pregnant women is to do your very best not to take risks that might harm your baby, but understand that it isn’t always possible to avoid certain “maybe” risks. Don't be too hard on yourself – pregnancy is not easy with all of the physical and emotional changes your body has to endure. To be on top of every little thing that may or may not be harmful to the baby is impossible.
If you've already washed your hands one hundred million times, don't worry. What's done is done. If you really feel strongly about not using sodium laurel sulfate, look for soaps and detergents that don't contain any. Although the options are very limited, there are a few.
I, personally, could not find a decent enough shampoo that had zero sodium laurel sulfate. My greasy mop needed all the help it could get during pregnancy, so I just stuck to my favorite shampoo.
p.s. People with OCD sometimes have greater success breaking their patterns when reaching a major milestone like having a baby. If this possibility interests you, try consulting a therapist about a plan of action.
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Q. I am 11.5 weeks pregnant. Can I clean my new home using chemicals such as Formula 409, Clorox bleach and other bathroom cleaners without harming the baby?
-Anonymous, New York
A. I think so. As long as you keep the room well ventilated and try not to directly breathe in the fumes and spray from these cleaning products, you should be fine. Prolonged exposure to such chemicals in an enclosed area may put a developing fetus at risk, but I think you'll be okay.
Q. I work at a body shop doing office work, but I'm not really in the shop. Would this be harmful if I decide to have a baby?
A. There are a number of chemicals that pregnant women should avoid, including carbon monoxide, lead, mercury compounds, aluminum, ethylene oxide and dioxin. It's possible that you may be exposed to some of these chemicals in an auto body shop's office. I guess it all depends on how the ventilation system works. If you find the office accumulates black or dark gray dust, or if you can noticeably smell exhaust fumes, you are probably getting some exposure to hazardous chemicals. If this is the case, you may want to take an early maternity leave or look for a new job.
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Q. I am pregnant with my second child and was wondering if it is safe to get your my permed, since the perm chemicals contain ammonia? I have heard yes and no, so I wanted to make sure before I did it.
A. Chemical treatment, like getting your hair colored or permed, is considered among the "maybe" risks. (See the other "hair" questions for more details.)
The only reason I might advise you against getting a perm is because it may be a waste of your time and money. In most women, the horror-mones of pregnancy change the hair and scalp to be more oily, therefore resistant to the chemicals of a permanent. My girlfriend Liz got her hair permed when she was six months. It looked good for a day. The first four inches of her hair (closest to the scalp) resisted the perm, while the rest got super curly. She ended up looking like some kind of weird poodle-head.
Q. I used some WD-40-type cleaner to oil a sliding door so it wouldn't squeak. The container states it has lithium products and can cause harm to a fetus. I used it only once for two minutes and washed my hands briefly afterwards. Do you think the fetus (approximately five weeks) is at risk?
-Anonymous, New Jersey
A. You and your baby are probably okay as long as you didn't directly spray the cleaning fluid into your nostrils for the two minutes. It's true that exposure to lithium products should be avoided during pregnancy as they may cause birth defects, but I think your exposure was minimal. If you used this type of cleaner on a daily basis, then you may be putting your baby at risk.
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Q. I used latex caulking on my tub to fix some spots and got some caulking on my finger while smoothing it out. Now I'm worried about it absorbing in my skin and hurting the baby. I'm 25 weeks pregnant.
-Anonymous, New York
A. Unless you ate the caulking, I'm sure you and your baby will be fine. The percentage of caulking that possibly may have been absorbed through your skin is extremely minimal. You'd probably ingest more latex by smelling wet paint on a house across the street.
Q. I am about five weeks pregnant. I am an operator for a pipeline. I am around oil and gas daily (testing and sampling). I am also around very large switchgear or breakers. How harmful is this exposure for my baby?
A. I do know that exposure to lead (contained in some gasolines) can be harmful to a developing fetus. Lead is easily transported across the placenta to the baby. Toxicity can occur as early as the twelfth week of pregnancy, which could result in lead poisoning in the fetus.
Whether the gasoline you handle contains lead or not, it's still considered toxic. The more exposure you have to toxic substances, the more risk your baby may have for developmental problems or birth defects. If you are not ingesting, inhaling or having toxins absorbed through your skin, your exposure and risk to the fetus would be minimal.
You may want to consult your boss and/or physician about the kind of risks you may be exposing yourself to while on the job. Based on your findings, you may want to stay employed in your current position, temporarily switch your job duties, take an early maternity leave or look for another job.