NEWSplash!: Pregnancy and Your Drinking Water

Pregnancy and Your Drinking Water
Could Drinking Water Affect Your Pregnancy?

Every parent is concerned with the health of his or her children. Pregnant women, in particular, are seriously concerned about diet, medicine, and occupational hazards. Since 70% of birth defects have not been traced to a particular source, a factor that is becoming a growing concern to parents is environmental pollution. Though the home receives much attention, one likely source of environmental pollution in the home is often overlooked: your drinking water. The following article examines several common drinking water contaminants and their connection to pregnancy. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) recommends that all families test their drinking water for coliform bacteria, nitrate and lead. These contaminants will be the starting point of our examination.

Coliform bacteria is an indicator of an unsanitary condition of your drinking water. The presence of coliform bacteria indicates the potential of other harmful bacteria or viruses that may be present in your water. Harmful bacteria include giardia, cryptosporidium, and the pathogenic strain of E.coli (O157:H7). Recently, over a period of two years more than 2/3 of the infectious outbreaks in the United States were from water sources contaminated with coliform bacteria. Coliform bacteria by itself also poses a problem to pregnant woman and young children by causing stomach and intestinal difficulties that dehydrate the body. Once identified, coliform bacteria can be easily treated and should be removed from the water.

Nitrate is the form of nitrogen that almost all plants need to grow. Normally in humans the nitrate is digested and removed from the body with no adverse affects. However, in infants and some adults with stomach problems, the nitrate is instead converted into nitrite. Nitrite is then absorbed into the bloodstream and decreases the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. This can lead to blue baby syndrome (methemoglobinemia). While nitrate in drinking water has been considered a cause of blue baby syndrome in infants for many years, it was only recently linked to spontaneous abortions. A nitrate level of 10mg/L as N is considered safe by the USEPA. If you are pregnant you should test your water for nitrate and treat the problem if the result is above this level.

Nearly everyone is aware that lead is a harmful substance to have in your body. Experts unanimously agree that everyone should minimize their exposure to lead. The specific contribution of lead in drinking water to overall blood lead levels is still in question. However, in a recent study, lead was shown to have a direct effect on IQ scores even at levels that were previously believed to be acceptable. In light of this recent study, any source that contributes to lead levels in the body should be uncovered and corrected. A study by researchers at Harvard University shows that lead that is stored in the bones of a pregnant woman is transferred to a fetus during pregnancy. A simple lead test can determine whether your drinking water is a source of lead contamination.

Though drinking water contamination may not currently be front-page news, it does increase the threat of complications to pregnancy. Testing for the contaminants discussed in this article (coliform bacteria, nitrate and lead) is a good start to help reduce the threat of complications. Why wait until it’s too late? Test your drinking water now and safeguard the health of your children!