Babies born to mothers who are exposed to organic solvents at work have a slightly higher risk of having a congenital heart defect at birth, research suggests.
Industrial hygienists assessed the levels of workplace exposure to solvents in 5,000 women from across the US, from one month before conception through to the first three months of pregnancy.
Expectant mothers who work with paints, varnishes, cleaning products, dyes and agricultural products which include organic solvents could potentially be putting their babies at risk of being born with congenital heart defects.
If women are exposed to such solvents from one month before conception to the first three months of pregnancy there is potentially a risk factor for several types of heart defects at birth, researchers said.
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All of their babies were born between 1997 and 2002. Researchers also included data on stillbirths and abortions.
The authors looked for associations between exposure to organic solvents which are common in some workplaces, and 15 categories of congenital heart defects.
They found that around 4% of mothers whose babies did not have birth defects, and 5% of those who did, had been exposed to an organic solvent at about the time they were trying to conceive or early in pregnancy.
However, the authors caution: "Despite the strengths of this analysis, the results do not allow for the drawing of definitive conclusions on specific exposure-congenital heart defect combinations."
Amy Thompson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said in a statement: “This study links exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace during pregnancy to an increased risk of congenital heart disease in your baby.
“However, these results do not prove that solvents caused these congenital heart defects. Further research is needed to see if these observations are correct.
“If you have any concerns about your pregnancy or you are planning a baby and would like more information, speak to your GP or midwife.”
Professor Donald Peebles, a consultant obstetrician for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told the BBC: "It's a fairly small increased risk of a rare complication of pregnancy. In the UK, around 1% of babies are born with these problems and what we are talking about is a small percentage of these.
"No one would say based on these findings that someone should give up their job. But it may be sensible to limit exposure when possible."
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