High lead levels in blood could lead to premature births

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New research from Children of the 90s shows that pregnant women with higher-than-average levels of lead in their blood during pregnancy may be more likely to give birth prematurely.

Lead is a toxic metal that is widespread in our environment, despite bans on lead in petrol and paint and the removal of lead water pipes in the UK. It crosses the placenta in pregnant women so an unborn baby can be exposed to lead during its development.

The research found that women with a blood lead level of more than 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dl) were also more likely to give birth to a baby who was a little shorter in length and had a slightly smaller head.

The authors emphasise, however, that the effects are small, affecting only about one per cent of the 4,285 women they studied and that they are based on information gathered some time ago when lead levels in the environment were probably greater than they are now.

Speaking about the findings, the report’s author, Dr Caroline Taylor,

“This should not be a cause of concern for most pregnant women. High blood lead levels are rare and following the advice that is provided for a healthy pregnancy, particularly on smoking and alcohol consumption, will keep lead levels to a minimum and avoid any harmful effects on the unborn baby. Eating a healthy diet is also important – particularly having plenty of calcium and iron.”

Further information

The paper, Taylor CM, Golding J, Emond AM, ‘Adverse effects of maternal lead levels on birth outcomes in the ALSPAC study: a prospective birth cohort study’ BJOG 2014; DOI 10.1111/1471-0528.12756, is published online today in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology ( BJOG).

Please contact Dara O’Hare for further information.

this news has been re-posted from the University of Bristol’s website