The Surprising Link Between BPA and Preterm Birth

We've known of the dangers bisphenol A (BPA) poses on our health, but a new study suggests the chemical can even affect how soon babies are born.

The Surprising Link Between BPA and Preterm Birth Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

For years we've been hearing the warnings about the impact bisphenol A or BPA—a chemical found in the coatings of various food containers, like plastic bottles—has on our health, but a new study found that complications from the compound can start from as early as inside the womb.

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston looked at blood and amniotic fluid samples from pregnant women who had been admitted to the hospital to deliver. They discovered that women with higher levels of BPA in their bloodstream were more likely to have a preterm birth than women who recorded lower levels of the chemical.

Exposure is no small matter

According to the findings, which were published in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, BPA can cause "abnormal inflammation" in the mom-to-be, which can contribute to several problems during pregnancy—including preterm rupture of membranes and preterm birth.

"During the past decade, there has been an increasing appreciation of how exposure to industrial chemicals in widespread use may increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes," the authors write.

"Women are continuously exposed to BPA because it's used in the construction and coatings of food containers and its release into food is increased by microwave or other heat sources," said lead researcher Ramkumar Menon, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UTMB. "In fact, BPA is so widely used that nearly all women have some level of exposure."

Can we protect ourselves?

Although the study was relatively small, the discovery is one that can't be ignored and study authors point out that it's critical to continue investigating how the chemical affects the body.

"Widespread use of BPA in materials of our daily life and our findings that all patients have some level of exposure suggests that contact with these materials is unavoidable," Menon said. "This suggests that a better understanding of how BPA may alter maternal physiology is needed to minimize the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes."

Prenatal exposure to BPA has also been associated with lung complications, behavioral issues and low weight in girls.

Related: How to Avoid BPA Throughout Your Pregnancy