Research Horizons


Multi-Phthalate Exposure Increases Preterm Birth Risk

Yolton Co-Authors Study Led by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

In the largest study to date on this topic, research led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) reports that exposure to four of the 11 phthalates found in the pregnant women was associated with a 14-16% greater probability of having a preterm birth.

The most consistent findings were for exposure to a phthalate that is used commonly in personal care products like nail polish and cosmetics.

Kimberly Yolton, PhD, Director of the Research Section in the Division of General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s was a co-author in the study. Yolton and colleagues have devoted years to studying the impact of low-level prenatal and childhood exposures to environmental chemicals on health, growth and neurobehavioral outcomes.

This study adds to the evidence detailing the health risks linked to a class of extremely common chemicals. In addition to many cosmetics, phthalates are used in solvents, detergents, and food packaging.

“Pregnant women already have a lot of things to worry about as they try to keep their babies safe and healthy. This study suggests that personal care products are just one more thing to add to the growing list,” Yolton says.

Women who want to minimize their risk of preterm delivery can try to reduce their exposure to phthalates by looking for fragrance-free products and others labeled phthalate-free. Eating more fresh, home-cooked meals and avoiding processed food that comes in plastic containers, also may help.

“It is difficult for people to completely eliminate exposure to these chemicals in everyday life, but our results show that even small reductions within a large population could have positive impacts on both mothers and their children,” says Barrett Welch, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at NIEHS and first author on the study.

Read the NIEHS announcement

Read the study in JAMA Pediatrics

Read previous research from Dr. Yolton and colleagues

Prenatal exposure to bisphenol A and phthalates and infant neurobehavior

Gestational and childhood phthalate exposures and adolescent body composition: The HOME study

Gestational and childhood exposure to phthalates and child behavior