For Pregnant Women Exposed to Lead, “an ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure”


by Amy Winslow, CEO, Magellan Diagnostics

My grandmother used to say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and it’s come to mind a lot this year, as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has created a national wakeup call about lead exposure.

As the most common, preventable environmental illness, lead poisoning exemplifies this adage about prevention. Lead is a versatile, powerful and permanent neurotoxin that can hide almost anywhere. The good news? Spend some time on prevention and you can avoid a lifetime of trouble.

Awareness and action is critical for young children and their mothers.

Many parents know that children under the age of six are most susceptible to the effects of lead. Less well-known is the fact that unborn children can also be irreversibly harmed if the mother is exposed before and/or during pregnancy.

Mothers who are exposed to lead – whether through home renovations, unhealthy water, or contaminated consumer goods – will also expose their babies because lead readily crosses the placenta. In fact, lead has been detected in a fetal brain as early as the end of the first trimester, with peak transfer occurring in the beginning of the second trimester at 12 – 14 weeks.

Prenatal lead exposure effects both mother and baby. Mothers are more likely to develop gestational hypertension and deliver pre-term. Babies can suffer low birth weight and size, as well as damage to the brain, kidneys, and nervous system that can result in lifelong challenges.

It’s estimated that almost 1 in every 100 pregnant women have elevated blood lead levels (over 5 micrograms lead per deciliter of blood). That makes lead exposure more common than many of the disorders that are routinely screened during the first prenatal visit (i.e. Tay Sachs, Cystic Fibrosis, HIV).

The good news: you can take action now for peace of mind.

Being aware of where lead lurks in the environment will help you, and your baby, avoid exposure.
· Do you spend time in a building built before 1978? These are more likely to contain lead contaminated paint dust that can be inhaled or ingested.

· Do you, or family members, have a hobby or job involving lead? For example, painting, construction, plumbing, auto refinishing, fishing, hunting/shooting. Lead dust can be brought home on clothes, footwear, even on a car seat.

· Do you use imported ceramics, home remedies, cosmetics, candy or spices? These can be contaminated with lead and should be carefully avoided.

· Do you garden in soil near a busy street or an older home? Lead dust collects in the first several inches of soil where it can linger for centuries.

· Has the water in your home or community been tested? In 2015 there were over 8,000 violations of the rule governing lead in water systems; these systems served over 18 million people.

Another helpful thing to know is that a healthy diet can help mitigate the effects of lead exposure.

Finally, know that lead exposure rarely causes symptoms. So, testing Mom’s blood lead level early in pregnancy is the only way to be certain that you’re not both at risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend testing for lead exposure when a single risk factor, such those listed above, is identified.

Pregnant women should be tested for lead at their first prenatal visit if a single risk factor is either identified or unknown. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when a baby’s potential is at risk. Don’t guess. Test.

Original Source:

Amy Winslow, CEO, Magellan Diagnostics, mother, advocate for childhood lead testing

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