Chemicals that mess with your hormones have long been suspected of keeping couples from having children. By interfering with both men's and women's estrogen levels, these hormone-disrupting chemicals, found in plastics, pesticides, and other household goods, can lower sperm counts and increase a woman's chances of infertility.
Read More: Is Your Shampoo Keeping You From Having Babies?
Now, new research shows that they may even increase a woman's chances of losing her baby. The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, analyzed the relationship between pregnancy loss and urine levels of phthalates, chemicals used in plastic containers, soft vinyl products, synthetic fragrances, and pesticide formulations.
The researchers looked specifically at DEHP and DEP, two phthalates used in vinyl products and the synthetic fragrances added to scent personal care products and cleaners. Using information collected during a two-year study on Danish women who were trying to get pregnant and had not previously had children, the authors compared levels of those phthalates in urine samples collected from the women to the rates of pregnancy loss in the group, ascertained by a clinician or by levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG in the urine samples.
Read More: How Chemicals in Cosmetics Affect Unborn Kids
Of the 48 pregnancy losses in the study, 32 happened in the first six weeks of pregnancy. Though not all phthalates were associated with pregnancy loss, levels of DEHP, the phthalate used in vinyl and other plastics, were 30 percent higher in women who had experienced pregnancy loss than they were in women who'd successfully carried their pregnancies to term. Also, the authors noticed that the higher the levels of DEHP, the more likely the women were to have experienced a pregnancy loss. The authors did note that women who had lost their babies also consumed more caffeine than the other mothers, but aside from that, their lifestyles were very similar.
According to the authors, one-third of all pregnancies end before a fetus has fully developed, and two-thirds of those are lost within the first five weeks of the pregnancy. While alcohol consumption and physical strain have been pegged as potential triggers, the only other environmental contaminant that has been linked to pregnancy loss is the now-banned pesticide DDT. Phthalates have been pegged as a possible cause of pregnancy loss in animal studies, in which scientists have seen reduced numbers of live offspring and a greater number of spontaneous abortion in rats that eat high levels of the chemicals.
Read More: 9 Everyday Chemicals That Could Be Screwing with Your Fertility
If you're planning to get pregnant, it's best to protect yourself and your baby from phthalates, even though this was a small study and the only one of its kind.
• Eat organic to avoid the phthalates in pesticide formulations, and cook and store your food in glass or stainless steel only to avoid those in plastics. It's thought that diet is our number one source of exposure to phthalates.
• Avoid any product that has a synthetic fragrance: cosmetics, lotions, shampoos, soaps, candles, cleaners, and so forth.
• Kick vinyl out of your house. Opt for cloth shower curtains and buy baby products packaged in cardboard or cloth; those plastic bags used to package sheets, comforters, and other nursery linens are, more often than not, made of vinyl.