How Are Workers and Their Babies Exposed?

Harmful substances can enter a woman's body through

  • breathing in (inhalation),
  • contact with the skin,
  • or swallowing (ingestion).

Pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant should be especially concerned about exposure to reproductive hazards. Some chemicals (such as alcohol) can circulate in the mother's blood, pass through the placenta, and reach the developing fetus. Other hazardous agents can affect the overall health of the woman and reduce the delivery of nutrients to the fetus. Radiation can pass directly through the mother's body to harm her eggs or the fetus. Some drugs and chemicals can also pass through a mother's body into the nursing baby through the breast milk. However, breast feeding has many positive effects. Thus a woman who may be exposed to reproductive hazards on the job should consult with her doctor or other health care provider before deciding whether or not to breast feed.

Reproductive hazards do not affect every woman or every pregnancy. Whether a woman or her baby is harmed depends on how much of the hazard they are exposed to, when they are exposed, how long they are exposed, and how they are exposed.