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Preterm Delivery

Too Much Phthalate Exposure Could Induce Preterm Labor

By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

Too much exposure to a common chemical found in food packaging, cleaning agents, and personal care products could cause pregnant women to deliver preterm, according to a pooled analysis.

Researchers collected data on 16 relevant studies conducted in the United States. These studies were about preconception and pregnancy; there were more than 6,000 participants who delivered between 1983 and 2018 and provided one or more urine samples during pregnancy. Investigators scrutinized these urine samples for signs of phthalates, a common chemical — specifically, 11 metabolites.

Of 6,045 subjects, 539 delivered preterm (at least three weeks or more ahead of the scheduled due date). Exposure to four of 11 phthalate metabolites was associated with a 14% to 16% greater likelihood of delivering preterm. Researchers traced the most common culprit to a particular phthalate found in personal care products, such as cosmetics or nail polish.

Using models to create simulations, the authors tried to understand how limiting phthalate exposure could prevent preterm births. They noted cutting phthalate metabolite levels by 50% could prevent preterm births by 12%, on average.

“It is difficult for people to completely eliminate exposure to these chemicals in everyday life, but our results show that even small reductions within a large population could have positive impacts on both mothers and their children,” said Barrett Welch, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and first author on the study.

Patients can start by avoiding processed food served in plastic and selecting “fragrance-free” personal care products. More research is ongoing to better understand the relationship between preterm delivery and phthalate exposure, as well as how patients might limit exposure to these chemicals.

For more on this and related subjects, be sure to read the latest issues of OB/GYN Clinical Alert.