Did you know a person’s genetics, pre-existing health conditions, lifestyle, lack of prenatal care, poor nutrition, use of certain medications, and risky behaviors before and during pregnancy - such as smoking, drug use, or drinking alcohol - contribute to poor reproductive outcomes? These factors may cause infertility and result in poor birth outcomes; such as miscarriages, premature births, low birth weights, birth defects, and infant mortality. Social situations that cause chronic stress - such as poverty, difficult working conditions, and domestic or neighborhood violence - may also contribute to the risk of poor outcomes such as low birth weight or infant mortality. Exposure to chemicals in the environment - such as secondhand smoke, lead, mercury, air pollution, pesticides and other toxins - may also increase the likelihood of poor reproductive outcomes. Some environmental toxins - such as mercury and lead - can pass from a mother to her unborn child. A woman eating fish high in mercury during pregnancy can harm the unborn baby’s developing nervous system. Exposure to high levels of lead during pregnancy increases risk for miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, and developmental delays.

Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant can reduce the chance of poor reproductive outcomes by:

  • Avoiding secondhand smoke and by not smoking.
  • Not drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs.
  • Getting medical treatment for infections and other illnesses.
  • Starting prenatal health care early in pregnancy and continuing until delivery.

For more information, contact the Department of Health and Senior Service's Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology, at (573) 751-6102.

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