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Children's health

30th Jul 2023

Kids more prone to asthma when mum’s job exposes her to cleaning products, study finds


The research shows how high exposure to cleaning product chemicals can affect the unborn child.

A recent study has found that children whose mothers were exposed to cleaning products at work prior to the child’s birth are more prone to asthma.

The study, which looked at mothers across Northern Europe, Spain and Australia who had been exposed mostly to the likes of detergents and disinfectants, showed that kids whose mothers were exposed to cleaning products at work either before or around conception were more likely to develop asthma than kids whose mothers had minimal exposure to such products.

Results were consistent regardless of whether the mothers themselves suffered from asthma or smoked before having children.

Though links between high exposure to cleaning product chemicals and the development or worsening of asthma symptoms have been understood for quite some time, the new research shows how it can affect the unborn child.

The study looked at data from around 3,300 people, born between 1962 and 1998, and their mothers. Each mother, born between 1945 and 1973, had worked a job that exposed her to cleaning products at a medium or high level for at least six months.

These jobs obviously included professional cleaning roles in offices, hotels, or homes, but also positions as housekeepers, restaurant staff, embalmers, and hair dressers.

150 of the mothers had been exposed to cleaning products at least two years prior to their kids’ birth, but not during pregnancy. The children of these women were more prone to developing asthma before age 10 than any other kids in the study.

Children whose mothers were exposed to cleaning products 3 to 15 months prior to conception, during pregnancy, or within the first year after giving birth were also more prone to developing asthma before age 10.

Researchers wrote that the study “adds a new dimension to the growing concern about health effects of cleaning agents,” the likes of which may pose harm to future generations.

Though researchers were unable to establish exactly how the cleaning products caused greater risks of asthma development for the children in the study, they have a number of theories.

One was that the chemicals cross the placenta during pregnancy, thereby transferring from mother to child. However, this fails to explain why the kids of women who were exposed to cleaning agents long before pregnancy were also prone to asthma.

Another theory was that exposure to cleaning chemicals might alter the cells in the mother’s germ line – the sex cells that pass on genes from generation to generation.

If this were the case, the children of a woman who was exposed to such chemicals prior to and not during pregnancy could still inherit genetic instructions that affect their breathing long after they’re born.