Exposure to Lead and the Risks During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Disclaimer: This page houses important information and resources pertaining to lead exposure during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, including links to our evidence-based Fact Sheets. However, the resources here should not replace the care and advice of a medical professional.
Lead is a heavy metal that can be found in many places such as soil, cosmetics, children’s & costume jewelry, old paint, gasoline, and in many types of hobbies and industry (e.g., ceramics & pottery making, jewelry making, auto repair, printing, construction, stained glass work, welding, finishing furniture, or indoor target practice, to name a few). Lead can also leach out of pipes into drinking water, such as occurred in the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Lead is absorbed into the body by breathing lead dust into the lungs as well as through the gut by swallowing lead particles.
“High blood lead levels are dangerous for a pregnant woman and her fetus. Possible problems include high blood pressure, spontaneous abortion, small babies, and brain damage in the infant.”— Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita, Clinical Toxicologist, Poison Control
High levels of lead during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight, and premature delivery. Lead exposure is also harmful to the developing brain and can cause learning and behavior problems. For breastfeeding moms, lead levels in breast milk are usually lower than levels in mother’s blood. Lead may also be found in infant formula if it is mixed with contaminated water.
Please see our library of resources below on lead exposure during pregnancy and breastfeeding. You can also download our digital, bilingual rack card about lead. Health Professionals can also review the “Lead Exposure: Pregnancy and Beyond” slide deck from our January 17, 2017 webinar.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Blood Lead Levels in Pregnant & Breastfeeding Moms
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention: Pregnant Women
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Breastfeeding: Lead
- March of Dimes: Lead and Your Baby
- Poison Control: Lead and Pregnancy: Know the Risks
External Resources for Health Providers
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): Lead Screening during Pregnancy and Lactation
- Medical Home Portal: Childhood Lead Exposure
- Medical Home Portal: Maternal Lead Exposure