Category Archives: Environment/Toxins

Pollution and birth weight

Beijing in January

Beijing in January

What with continuing air pollution woes in such diverse locales as Beijing and Salt Lake City,  a study released last week in Environmental Health Perspectives–which found a direct relationship between particulate air pollution and low birth weight in term babies–couldn’t be more timely.

The study’s authors compiled data on more than 3 million births in nine countries and found a 10-15% increased risk of low birth weight in the most polluted locations.

This isn’t just about turning out slightly less pudgy newborns. The consequences of low birth weight are far-reaching, even multi-generational. Low birth weight babies are more likely to develop chronic health conditions as they grow up, like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes–just the sort of health problems that make for high-risk pregnancies a generation down the road.

In other words, today’s low birth weight baby girl is more likely to one day produce an unhealthy baby of her own. It’s a cycle that’s tough to break once it starts, and this study is more food for thought as world leaders (hopefully) get serious about addressing climate issues.

(Photo credit: jaaron)

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Filed under Environment/Toxins, Maternal-child health, Newborns

Nicotine: A colic risk factor?

Headed for colic?

A study from Denmark shows a link between nicotine exposure during pregnancy, particularly nicotine replacement therapy, and colic. (Popular nicotine replacement therapies, or NRTs, include products like Nicorette gum, patches, etc.)

Babies born to smokers were 1.3 times more likely to be colicky; those born to women using NRT were 1.6 times as likely. Interestingly, women who both smoked and used NRT were no more likely to have colicky babies than women who only smoked.

The reasons for the higher rate of colic from nicotine exposure, and especially the even higher rates for mothers using NRTs, aren’t known. Possibilities (just me guessing here) include a neonatal withdrawal syndrome along the lines with what’s seen with other drugs, or negative effects on the fetal brain from maternal life stresses that may predispose a pregnant woman to smoke in the first place.

The researchers didn’t look at the total amount of nicotine the fetus was exposed to. It’s possible that women trying to quit smoking during pregnancy actually increased their nicotine intake when they switched to an NRT. Pregnancy can be stressful enough by itself–trying to kick an addiction can add to that stress, and perhaps lead to increased nicotine use via NRTs.

Given all the risks of maternal smoking–including SIDS–a few weeks of colic seems a small price to pay for kicking the nicotine habit. But maternity care and pediatric providers (and family members and friends) should be prepared to support a new mother through a rocky period with her fussy baby–a stressful time that may increase the risk of her taking up smoking again.

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Filed under Environment/Toxins, Maternal-child health, Smoking

Johnson & Johnson under fire

Here’s one for the “What are they thinking??” file:


Two chemicals considered harmful to babies remain in Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo sold in the U.S. even though the company already makes versions without them, according to a coalition of health and environmental groups.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has unsuccessfully been urging the world’s largest health care company for 2 1/2 years to remove the trace amounts of potentially cancer-causing chemicals — dioxane and a substance called quaternium-15 that releases formaldehyde — from Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, one of its signature products.

J & J’s image as a baby-and-family-friendly company is certainly taking a beating on this one. Deservedly so.

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Filed under Environment/Toxins