Mercury can damage many parts of your body, including the nervous system, lungs and kidneys. It also can cause hearing and vision problems. The seriousness of the damage depends upon how much mercury you’re exposed to.
Babies who are exposed to mercury in the womb can suffer brain damage and affect your baby’s hearing and vision.
How are you exposed to mercury?
Mercury has several forms:
- It’s the shiny, silvery-white liquid used in thermometers. It’s also used in some dental fillings and in some light bulbs.
- It can be a colorless, odorless vapor in the air. It’s released into the air through industrial processes, like burning waste or burning coal in power plants.
- Mercury in the air falls back to earth and builds up in oceans, lakes, rivers and streams. The fish in these waters absorb the mercury. If you eat these fish, you can be exposed to mercury.
You can be exposed to mercury through:
- Your skin, by touching it
- Through the air, by breathing it in
- By eating or drinking food or water contaminated with it
How can you limit or prevent exposure to mercury?
Follow these tips to help you stay away from mercury during pregnancy:
- Don’t eat fish that contain high amounts of mercury. And limit fish with lower amounts.
- If you work in a job where you may be exposed to mercury, talk to your employer about safety precautions. Ask if you can switch to a different position or task during pregnancy.
- If you need to have a tooth filled , talk to your dentist about filling options. The Food and Drug Administration says that mercury fillings are safe for most people, including pregnant women. But you may be able to have a filling that doesn’t contain mercury. Don’t have any mercury fillings removed unless they are broken or damaged.
- Ask an adult who’s not pregnant to throw away any broken thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs or high-intensity light bulbs. Store these items in a way that prevents them from breaking, and don’t let children handle them. Don’t use a vacuum cleaner to clean spilled mercury.
For specific information, see the recommendations provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Last reviewed July 2012
See also: Environmental risks and pregnancy
Things to avoid
- Changing cat litter
- Hot baths, hot tubs and saunas
- Lead exposure from old pipes and faucets
- Mercury from broken bulbs and thermometers
- Pesticides and certain chemicals (check labels)