Lead Exposure During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Lead Exposure During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Keeping your baby safe

What is lead?

Lead is a heavy metal that has been used for thousands of years to make a variety of products and is still in use today. Too much lead exposure can cause serious health problems, and young children and developing fetuses are most at risk.

Why be concerned about lead?

Lead poisoning can cause serious harm to your baby’s health. Side effects of lead poisoning include:

  • Lowered intelligence
  • Decreased coordination
  • Shortened attention span
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Reading problems and other disabilities

How can you get lead poisoning?
Lead enters your body each time you swallow or breathe in something that has lead in it, such as fumes, dust or paint chips. Many pregnant women have cravings for non-food items, which can cause exposure to lead. For adults, exposure normally happens at work, during repair or remodeling of an older home, or while doing a hobby where lead is used (such as making stained glass or jewelry with lead solder and target shooting). If someone you live with is exposed to lead and does not shower and change clothing before coming home, you may be exposed to the lead on their clothing or in their hair.

How can your baby become exposed to lead?

Pregnant women with high blood lead levels can transfer lead to their baby through the placenta or through breast milk. Breastfeeding is still recommended unless the mother’s blood lead level is so high that it would put the baby at risk.

How do you know if you or your baby have been exposed to lead?

There are no signs or symptoms of lead poisoning until you are very sick. The only way to know if you have been exposed to lead is to get a blood lead test by:

  • Visiting your medical clinic (as part of your prenatal exam)
  • Contacting the local public health office nearest you for information on services in your area

If you live in a home built before 1978 and any remodeling is being done, you and your home should be tested to make sure that you and your baby are not being exposed to lead.

Is there financial assistance for home remodeling?

Contact your local housing agency for financial assistance with home remodeling needs. Some counties have loans and grants available for controlling lead hazards.

What can you do to prevent lead poisoning?

The best way to prevent lead exposure during pregnancy and breastfeeding is to:

  • Talk about possible risks with your doctor if your job includes working with or around lead. You will need to decide if you should get a job transfer.
  • Stay away from work areas during repair or remodeling of a house built before 1978.
  • Never sand or scrape lead-based paint (all repair or remodeling needs to be done using lead-safe work practices).
  • Have all household members who are exposed to lead through a hobby or job do the following:
    -shower after working with lead
    -wash their clothes separately from other household clothing
  • Avoid eating non-food items (such as soil, clay, plaster, paint chips, pottery), using herbal medicines, and traditional remedies or cosmetics that may contain lead.
  • Test your home and water for lead. Paint chips, water and soil can be tested for lead. (Call MDH or your local health department for more information.)
  • Avoid using imported pottery and leaded crystal for preparing or eating food.

Download a PDF version of this information here:

Updated Wednesday, 15-May-2019 15:18:57 CDT