Arsenic and pregnancy

Arsenic is a metal. It comes from natural sources, like crumbling rocks and forest fires. It also comes from man-made sources, like mining and manufacturing (making) electronic products.

Small amounts of arsenic normally found in the environment (where you live and work) aren’t likely to harm your baby during pregnancy. But if you’re exposed to (come in contact with) higher levels of arsenic, it may cause problems like miscarriage and birth defects. Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Birth defects are health conditions that a baby has at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, in how the body develops, or in how the body works.

Arsenic also can be harmful to children. If children are exposed to arsenic for a long period of time, it may lead to having a lower IQ.

How are you exposed to arsenic?

You may be exposed to harmful levels of arsenic if you:

  • Work at or live near metal smelters (where metal is made)
  • Work at or live near waste sites or incinerators (where garbage is burned) Drink well water that has high levels of arsenic. This may be well water found near metal smelters, waste sites or incinerators. Or it may be well water in areas of the country, like parts of New England and the Midwest, that have naturally high levels of arsenic in rock.

How can you protect yourself and your baby from arsenic during pregnancy?

If you think you’ve been exposed to high levels of arsenic, tell your health care provider. Here are some things you can do to help protect yourself: 

  • Limit your contact with soil. Wear gloves when you work in the garden.
  • Get your well water tested for arsenic to make sure it’s safe to drink.
  • Stain or seal decks and outdoor play sets made before 2003. Arsenic was once used in these products. You can use a special stain or sealant to reduce your chances of being exposed to arsenic.

If you may be exposed to arsenic at your job, talk to your boss. Tell her that you’re pregnant. You may be able to change job responsibilities to help keep you and your baby safe during pregnancy. To help protect yourself from arsenic at work:

  • Wear protective clothing. Shower and change your clothes (including shoes) before going home.
  • Wash your work clothes at work or wash them at home separately from the rest of the laundry.
  • Wash your hands before eating.

Last reviewed: September, 2014