Lead and your baby
Lead is a metal. You can’t see, smell or taste lead, but it can be harmful to everyone, especially children and pregnant women. You and your child can be exposed to (come in contact with) lead by breathing it in from dust in the air, swallowing it in dust or dirt, or drinking it in water from pipes that are made of lead.
Exposure to lead is more dangerous to children than to adults. About half a million to 1 million children in the United States have high levels of lead in their blood. If you think your child has been exposed to lead, tell your child’s health care provider. She can check your child’s blood for lead.
What kind of problems can exposure to lead cause for your baby?
Exposure to lead can cause problems for your baby before and after birth, including:
- Low birthweight. This is when your baby weighs less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces at birth.
- Brain damage
- Anemia. This is when your baby doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the rest of her body.
- Developmental delays. This means your child doesn't reach developmental milestones when expected. A developmental milestone is a skill or activity that most children can do at a certain age. Milestones include sitting, walking, talking, having social skills and having thinking skills.
- Hearing loss
- Stomach problems, constipation and loss of appetite
The more lead your child takes into his body, the greater the risk of serious problems. Younger children are at higher risk for problems from lead than older children.
How can you protect your child from lead paint?
Before 1978 lead was commonly used in paint. Some of that paint still exists in older homes and buildings—on walls, doors, window and cabinets. As the paint gets older, it may chip or peel. Babies and children may pick up small pieces of paint and put them in their mouth. Or dust from old paint may get on their hands or in their food.
If your home was built before 1978, here are some things you can to do help make sure you and your child are safe from lead:
- Have your home inspected for lead. Your local health department can help you find an inspector.
- If the inspector finds lead in your home, hire professionals to do it. Stay out of your home until the job is done. For information about removing lead from your home, contact: the Department of Housing and Urban Development (also called HUD) at (800) RID-LEAD, the Environmental Protection Agency (also called EPA) or the National Lead Information Center at (800) 424-5323.
- Look for peeling or chipping paint. Clean it up with water.
- Keep floors, porches, windows, window sills and other flat surfaces clean from dust.
- If you’re doing home repairs or renovations, hire professionals who have been trained on how to work in houses that contain lead. You may want to stay somewhere else while the work is being done.
- Wash your hands and your child’s hands before eating.
If you’re renting a home and are concerned about lead, talk to your landlord. He’s responsible for making repairs safely. If you need help talking to your landlord about lead, contact your local health department.
How can you protect your child from lead in water?
If you have lead pipes in your house or if you have well water, lead may get into your drinking water. Boiling water does not get rid of lead.
If you think you have lead in your water:
- Use bottled or filtered water for cooking, drinking and mixing baby formula.
- If you’re using tap water, use cold water from your faucet for drinking and cooking. Water from the cold-water pipe has less lead and other harmful substances than water from the hot-water pipes.
- Run water from each tap before drinking it or using it for cooking, especially if you haven’t run the water for a few hours. If the faucet hasn’t been used for 6 hours, run the water until you feel its temperature change.
- Contact your local health department or water department to find out how to get pipes tested for lead. If you use well water, contact the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 for information on testing your well water for lead and other substances that can harm your health.
How can you protect your child from lead in toys?
Old painted toys and some toys and jewelry made outside the United States may contain lead. Lead can be in paint or in plastics used to make the toys. Your child may be exposed to lead when he puts these toys or his fingers that have touched the toys in his mouth.
To help protect your child from lead in toys:
- Don’t let your child play with older toys or toys made in other countries. If you think a toy may contain lead, throw it out.
- Check the labels of children’s paint and art supplies. Be sure they don’t contain lead.
- Pay attention to toy recalls. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has information on toy recalls.
- Wash your hands and your child’s hands before eating.
What are some other sources of lead in the home?
Lead may be found in other parts of the home, including:
- Lead crystal glassware and some ceramic dishes. Don’t use these items. Ceramics you buy in a store are generally safer than those made by craftspeople because stores have to follow certain safety guidelines.
- Some arts and crafts supplies, including oil paints, ceramic glazes and stained glass materials
- Vinyl miniblinds made outside the United States
- Make-up, such as lipstick, that has surma or kohl in it. Check the label on your make-up for a list of ingredients.
- Canned food from outside the United States. Don’t let your child eat this food.
- Candy from Mexico called Chaca Chaca. Lead in this candy may come from ingredients like chili powder and tamarind, or from ink on plastic or paper wrappers. Don’t let your child eat this candy.
Pencil lead is not the same as the metal lead. It’s not lead it all—it’s really a substance called graphite. Don’t worry about your child being exposed to lead by chewing on a pencil or getting stuck by a pencil point.
Last reviewed September 2014
See also: Lead and pregnancy, Drinking water for your baby
Frequently Asked Questions
Are plastic baby bottles that use BPA & phthalates safe?
Scientists are debating whether BPA (bisphenol A) and phthalates pose a risk to children's health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expressed concerns about chemicals used in plastics. BPA is used to make plastics clear, strong and hard to break. Some baby bottles, dishes and toys contain this chemical. Some research has found that bisphenol A can affect the brain, behavior and prostate gland in infants and children.
If you're concerned, buy BPA-free plastic baby products. You can also use baby bottles made of glass, polypropylene or polyethylene. If you use plastics, avoid plastics numbered 3 or 7 (look for the number in a triangle typically found on the bottom of containers). Use plastics numbered 1, 2 and 4. If plastic baby bottles and infant cups contain BPA, discard them if they have scratches. Don't put boiling or very hot liquids, such as formula, into plastic bottles or containers that contain BPA.