Harmful plastics


  • Most plastics are safe to use and be around during pregnancy.

  • Chemicals like BPA and phthalates used in some plastics may be harmful to your baby during pregnancy.

  • Don’t use plastic containers with the numbers 3 or 7 or the letters PC on the bottom. Don’t re-use single-use plastics, like bags, cups and straws.

  • Use toys and household products that aren’t made of plastic. If you use plastic products, check the label to make sure it’s safe. 

  • If you’re worried about your exposure to plastics, tell your health care provider. 

What is plastic and how can it be harmful to your pregnancy and baby?

Plastic is a man-made (also called synthetic) substance that’s used to make many products, like bottles, toys and furniture. It’s light and strong and can be molded into lots of different shapes and thicknesses. 

Plastic is made from chemicals. Two chemicals in plastic that may cause problems during pregnancy and early childhood are:

  1. Bisphenol A (also called BPA). BPA makes plastic clear and strong. It’s sometimes used in baby bottles, water bottles and metal cans. 
  2. Phthalates make plastic soft and flexible. Medical equipment (such as tubing), shampoo, make-up and food packaging may contain phthalates. 

Exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy may cause problems with your baby’s brain and behavior. If your baby’s a boy, they may cause problems with his prostate. The prostate is a small gland near the bladder and penis that protects sperm. Sperm is what fertilizes a woman’s egg to make her pregnant. 

BPA is not banned in the United States, but many products now are made without BPA. Some phthalates are no longer used in new toys and other children’s products. 

How can you limit your family’s contact with harmful plastics? 

Here’s what you can do:

  • Don’t use plastic containers with the numbers 3 or 7 or the letters PC on the bottom. PC stands for a chemical called polycarbonate. Plastics with the numbers 1, 2 and 4 are safe to use. Use glass containers instead of plastic.
  • Don’t re-use single-use plastics. These are plastics that are meant to be used once and then thrown away, like shopping bags, water bottles, coffee cups and straws. If you re-use them, they can break down and release chemicals. Instead, use cloth shopping bags, glass bottles or cups and paper straws. 
  • Breastfeed so you don’t use a lot of bottles. If you do use them, use bottles made of glass, polypropylene or polyethylene. Check the label on the bottle package to see what it’s made of.
  • Give your baby toys made of fabric or unpainted, uncoated wood. If you do get a plastic toy, make sure it’s labeled BPA- or phthalate-free or that it was made after February 2009. Don’t let your baby chew on plastic electronics, like the TV remote or a cell phone. These may be treated with chemicals. 
  • Don’t microwave food in plastic containers or put plastics in the dishwasher. Limit canned food. 
  • Don’t use shampoo, lotions or powders that contain phthalates. Check the product label to make sure it’s phthalate-free.
  • Wash your hands before eating. Teach your children to wash their hands, too.

More information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Consumer Product Safety Commission

Last Reviewed: May, 2016