REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND THE WORKPLACE

Pesticides

Exposure to pesticides could increase your chances of having a miscarriage, a baby with birth defects, or other problems. Some pesticides also may be able to pass into breast milk. Here, you can learn more about these chemicals and what you can do to reduce your exposure for a healthier pregnancy.

What are pesticides?

  • Pesticides are chemicals used to destroy or control weeds (herbicides), insect pests (insecticides), rodent pests (rodenticides), or fungi (fungicides).
  • Pesticides are used in many workplaces, but also used in and around homes, primarily to treat for insects or weeds in the lawn.

Why should I be concerned about exposure?

  • Some pesticides have been linked in human studies with problems including miscarriages, birth defects, and learning or developmental disabilities in children.
  • Some pesticides also may pass into breast milk.

Who is exposed to pesticides?

  • Farmers greenhouse workers
  • Veterinarians, veterinary workers, and animal handlers
  • Landscapers
  • Lawn/pest service providers
  • Air crews

What is not known?

  • We don’t know what causes most miscarriages, birth defects, and other reproductive problems. If you work with pesticides and have a miscarriage or baby with a birth defect, we often can’t tell if it was caused by exposure to pesticides or if it was caused by something else.
  • We don’t know what levels of exposure to pesticides are safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding. Try to reduce or eliminate your exposure as much as possible during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

What can I do to reduce or eliminate exposure?

  • If you are pregnant, talk with your employer to see if it’s possible to avoid duties with pesticide exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • If you cannot avoid working with pesticides during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, here are some ways to reduce exposure:
    • Avoid directly applying pesticides, if possible. Ask someone else to apply the pesticides for you.
    • Wear protective clothing (like gloves and protective clothing) to avoid contact with pesticides and their residues. If you use sprays or fumigants, you may want to consider a respirator. Respirators are sometimes worn to reduce the amount of certain chemicals that workers breathe in. To be effective, respirators must be used correctly. If you are pregnant and using a respirator, learn more about respirators and pregnancy and talk to your doctor and your employer if you think you might need respiratory protection.
    • Carefully read and follow the instructions on the label for any pesticides you use. People and pets have become very sick, sometimes requiring hospitalization, after using household or work pesticides incorrectly.
    • Avoid entering areas where pesticides have been applied for at least as long as the pesticide label tells you to wait.
    • Pesticides can be carried into the home on shoes and clothing. Find tips on reducing take-home exposure, and ask that others in your household do the same.

Where can I get more information?

Page last reviewed: October 28, 2019