Phthalate Chemicals Linked to Problem Pregnancy

The results of a new scientific study have demonstrated that exposure to phthalates* — a ubiquitous group of chemicals found in everything from plastics to personal care products to electronics — may disrupt an important hormone needed to sustain a healthy pregnancy.


The new scientific study is among the first to examine the impact that phthalates, added to plastics to increase flexibility, have on the placental corticotropin releasing hormone (pCRH) that is produced by the placenta and increases throughout the course of pregnancy. The hormone plays an important role in promoting the onset of labor, but when levels are high or rise rapidly earlier in pregnancy, it may contribute to preterm birth and fetal growth problems as well as high blood pressure, diabetes, and postpartum depression.


“…these chemicals may alter the production of essential placental hormones, which has important implications for the course of pregnancy as well as subsequent child health and development.”

-Dr. Emily S. Barrett, researcher and associate professor, Rutgers School of Public Health and member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute

Study overview

“Associations between phthalates and pCRH among women with pregnancy complications grew stronger across the course of pregnancy.”

The researchers analyzed data from 1,018 low-risk pregnant women carrying single fetuses at two time points, mid- and late pregnancy. They found that the presence of various phthalates was associated with higher pCRH hormone levels in mid-pregnancy, but lower pCRH later in pregnancy. These levels were strongest in women who developed pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, suggesting that women who develop complications may be particularly vulnerable to this hormonal disruption. This is among the first and largest study so far to examine how these chemicals and the connection with pCRH disrupt the function of the endocrine system, which is especially delicate during pregnancy.

* Our other publications of scientific findings linking phthalates to health problems:

Premature Deaths Linked to Hormone-Disrupting Phthalate Chemicals

Phthalates and Pesticides Threaten Semen Quality: Study

Group calls for Ban on Phthalates

Household Chemicals PFAS and Phthalates Alter Gut Microbiome: Study

Phthalates Linked with Autism in Boys, say researchers

Phthalates Linked to Heart Rhythm Disruptions

Another Study Links Phthalates with Fertility Problems

Prenatal Exposure to Phthalate Chemicals Damaging to Girl Babies

Phthalate Chemicals Linked with High Cholesterol and Heart Disease: Study

Fast and Dangerous: Harmful Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Discovered in Fast Food

Ultra-Processed Food Additives Increase Risk for Second Heart Attack, Stroke

Obesity Link with Chemicals in Food, Products under Scrutiny from scientists

Avoid These Chemicals in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Scientists Find Loads of Toxic Chemicals in Toys and Health Risks for Kids

Common Household Chemicals May Impair Young Girls Thyroids: New Research

Sperm count down nearly 60 percent: Chemicals of concern in food, products, environment one possible suspect

Chemicals of Concern in One-Third of Fast Food Packaging: New Study

Commonly used chemicals endanger brain development: New report

Food Packaging Chemicals Linked to Weight Gain

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in food and personal care products linked with female reproductive health problems

Journal Reference:  Emily S. Barrett, Matthew Corsetti, Drew Day, Sally W. Thurston, Christine T. Loftus, Catherine J. Karr, Kurunthachalam Kannan, Kaja Z. LeWinn, Alicia K. Smith, Roger Smith, Frances A. Tylavsky, Nicole R. Bush, Sheela Sathyanarayana. Prenatal phthalate exposure in relation to placental corticotropin releasing hormone (pCRH) in the CANDLE cohort. Environment International, 2022; 160: 107078 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2022.107078