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Doctors Uncertain How to Address Toxic Exposure During Pregnancy

Obstetricians generally agree that talking about the risks of environmental hazards with their pregnant patients would be doing the women a great service. But a recent survey of practitioners in that specialty reveals few bring up the subject. Why?

That the issue is a serious one is not in dispute. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to such things as heavy metals, solvents and other toxins that are not uncommon in the environment can result in miscarriages, birth defects and developmental delays.

That being the case, it would seem legitimate to for Missouri readers to ask whether neglecting to discuss the subject with patients doesn’t constitute some level of medical malpractice. It’s a difficult question to answer and anyone with concerns about such matters would do well to consult an attorney.

The poll of 2,500 obstetricians was headed up by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. What they found was that while 78 percent agreed that counseling about toxic exposure would help reduce risks of complications and injury, less than 20 percent of the doctors said they actually do it.

When asked why they don’t broach the subject, most said it’s because they didn’t want to create a source of anxiety that they couldn’t alleviate. In other words, they aren’t sure what to tell patients to avoid exposure, especially from hazards over which patients have no control, such as air pollution.

But the study’s chief author says there are some simple steps women can and should take, and she suggests doctors might want to consider following the suggestions she offers. These include such basic steps as thoroughly washing all produce, using nontoxic cleaners around the house and avoiding the use of plastic containers when warming up food in the microwave.

She says doctors might also do well to get a bit more training about environmental hazards.

Source:, “Few Doctors Warn Expectant Mothers About Environmental Hazards,” Kara Manke, June 25, 2014