The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have just released advice that pregnant women should be aware of sources of possible chemical exposure from plastic containers, wrappers, use of household or cosmetic products, paint fumes, sunscreens, and even canned goods. This is to deal with potential, but so far unproven, risks to the child’s health. 

It is now recognised that exposure to considerable amounts of environmental chemicals has a link to adverse health effects in both women and children. The new paper seeks to highlight the potential of a risk during pregnancy, even though at present this is on the basis of prevention of a risk that has not yet been proven. The mantra is ‘safety first’. However, one of the co-authors of the paper admitted that for most environmental chemicals there is as yet no knowledge of whether they do affect developing babies, but that the paper was written to give pregnant women the ability to make an informed choice about the safest possible choices to make regarding lifestyle.

Trefine Maynard, a medical negligence specialist solicitor with AKCJ, said: “Whilst an emphasis on living as healthy a life as possible is to be welcomed, there is a danger that advice that is as general and speculative (in terms of risk) as that issued by the RCOG might scare pregnant women given the very wide risk that they suggest is faced from so many sources. They acknowledge that everyone faces risks from background chemicals every day in today’s world. We are surrounded by radio waves, electronic ‘chatter’, fumes from cars and lorries, pesticides in the air or on the food that we buy, unknown contaminants from the packaging on food we buy in the shops or supermarkets or from plastic cutlery, plates or furniture. Many may wish to live a totally ‘natural’ life but that is not a realistic possibility for all but a very few. 

Wherever it is practical then I believe passionately in prevention rather than cure, but I worry that the reality of having to cope with daily life in the 21st century is being ignored here. Women today often live their lives under immense pressure from the demands of work and family and supportive advice with proper facts - such as the level of risk from various sources - might be better than a very general approach admitting that there is actually no knowledge of not only how great the risk might be, but even whether any such risk exists. 

More general advice which should apply to all the population would be to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible and to eat unprocessed food wherever possible. Making it much easier for this to be accessed would be a good start. All too often in shops, or at festivals or train or bus stations or within a work environment, the majority and frequently all of the food offered is processed or very greasy. We have to start somewhere and this might be a good place!”