Preconception brief: Occupational/environmental exposures

Melissa A. McDiarmid, Kim Gehle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the last decade, more than half of U.S. children were born to working mothers and 65% of working men and women were of reproductive age. In 2004 more than 28 million women age 18-44 were employed full time. This implies the need for clinicians to possess an awareness about the impact of work on the health of their patients and their future offspring. Most chemicals in the workplace have not been evaluated for reproductive toxicity, and where exposure limits do exist, they were generally not designed to mitigate reproductive risk. Therefore, many toxicants with unambiguous reproductive and developmental effects are still in regular commercial or therapeutic use and thus present exposure potential to workers. Examples of these include heavy metals, (lead, cadmium), organic solvents (glycol ethers, percholoroethylene), pesticides and herbicides (ethylene dibromide) and sterilants, anesthetic gases and anti-cancer drugs used in healthcare. Surprisingly, many of these reproductive toxicants are well represented in traditional employment sectors of women, such as healthcare and cosmetology. Environmental exposures also figure prominently in evaluating a woman's health risk and that to a pregnancy. Food and water quality and pesticide and solvent usage are increasingly topics raised by women and men contemplating pregnancy. The microenvironment of a woman, such as her choices of hobbies and leisure time activities also come into play. Caregivers must be aware of their patients' potential environmental and workplace exposures and weigh any risk of exposure in the context of the time-dependent window of reproductive susceptibility. This will allow informed decision-making about the need for changes in behavior, diet, hobbies or the need for added protections on the job or alternative duty assignment. Examples of such environmental and occupational history elements will be presented together with counseling strategies for the clinician.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-128
Number of pages6
JournalMaternal and Child Health Journal
Issue numberSUPPL. 7
StatePublished - Sep 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Environmental exposure
  • Reproductive
  • Reproductive toxicants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Epidemiology

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