Can These Common Chemicals Cause Premature Birth?

The new link between phthalates and preterm deliveries.

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You know to be wary of chemicals in your food and beauty products, especially during pregnancy. Now, a new study gives you more incentive: researchers found a connection between phthalates (chemicals used to make plastic more flexible, and as solvents in personal care products) and preterm deliveries.

The findings: Exposure to high levels of phthalates was associated with increased risk of preterm delivery, according to a study published in Jama Pediatrics. In fact, women who were exposed to the most phthalates were 2 to 4 times more likely to deliver pre-term than those on the lowest end of the spectrum.

While the study can't prove a causal link, researchers think phthalates may increase inflammation in the mother, which has been linked to genes associated with preterm deliveries.

"Avoid these chemical when possible," says John Meeker, Associate Professor, Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and principal investigator of the study.

Sound easier said than done? It's true that they're rarely labeled, but you can outsmart the sneaky chemicals with these simple solutions.

Spritz natural scents

Phthalates are added to perfumes, body lotions, and soaps to dissolve fragrances, but companies aren't required to list them on ingredient labels. Your safest bet? Avoid products that list "fragrance" on the label, and try these soothing scents instead.

Be picky with packaging

The easiest way to identify a phthalate-ridden package: Look at the recycling label. If there's a number 3 inside the recycling symbol (as opposed to a 1, 2, 4, or 5), it's probably laced with phthalates.

Don't microwave plastic containers

Phthalates can transfer to your food when heated; heat leftovers in a glass or ceramic bowl, instead of Tupperware.

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