A mother’s workplace exposure to certain chemicals increases the risk for a rare birth defect, researchers say.

Exposure to certain chemicals at work in early pregnancy could lead to a higher risk of an umbilical cord defect called gastroschisis, a condition where the baby’s organs poke out of the gut.

Researchers have established a link between gastroschisis and exposure to PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), which mainly come from combustion and fossil fuels. They are also found in cigarette smoke.

Gastroschisis is a type of hernia. Babies born with this birth defect have their intestines (and sometimes other organs) protrude through a hole next to their belly button.

The birth defect can affect the babies’ ability to feed, digest food and absorb nutrients, and surgery is needed to place the organs back inside and repair the rupture.

Animal studies have already linked exposure to PAHs to multiple birth defects, including gastroschisis.

Pregnant women stay on the job

The study focused on workplace exposure to PAHs since more than 95 percent of employed women in the United States remain employed during pregnancy.

A growing number of women may be exposed to dangerous chemicals on the job that can harm the fetus.

Examples of workplaces where exposure is likely are oil and gas production facilities and coal-fired power plants as well as restaurants where meat is cooked at high temperatures.

The researchers asked study participants about the jobs they held during the critical window of development for this birth defect, which is the month before getting pregnant through the third month of pregnancy.

They found that mothers who were exposed to PAHs had 1.5 times the risk of having a baby with gastroschisis compared to women who were not exposed at work.

Babies of older women may have an elevated risk because their mothers have been exposed to PAHs for a longer time, they say.

Source: Environmental Health News

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