Phthalate Chemicals Linked with Preterm Births

A U.S. government National Institutes of Health study has found that pregnant women who were exposed to multiple phthalates during pregnancy had an increased risk of preterm birth. Phthalates are ubiquitous chemicals* used in personal care products (including cosmetics), as well as many household products like detergents, and food packaging–where the chemicals leach into the food we eat.

Study overview

In the largest study to date on this topic, scientists pooled data from 16 studies conducted across the United States that included individual participant data on prenatal urinary phthalate metabolites (representing exposure to phthalates), as well as the timing of delivery. Researchers analyzed data from a total of 6,045 pregnant women who delivered between 1983-2018. Nine percent, or 539, of the women in the study delivered preterm. Phthalate metabolites were detected in more than 96% of urine samples.  The scientists found that women with higher concentrations of several phthalate metabolites in their urine were more likely to deliver their babies preterm, which is delivering three or more weeks before a mother’s due date.

Higher concentrations of most phthalate metabolites examined were associated with slightly higher odds of preterm birth. Exposure to four of the 11 phthalates found in the pregnant women was associated with a 14-16% greater probability of having a preterm birth. The most consistent findings were for exposure to a phthalate that is used commonly in personal care products like nail polish and cosmetics.

crop expectant woman surfing internet on laptop in bedroom

What can you do?

-Choose products marked fragrance-free or those labeled “phthalate-free”.

-Minimize use of unnecessary personal care and home care products.

-Avoid ultra-processed and fast food. Make your own meals and snacks using fresh ingredients (organic where possible).

-Choose phthalate-free personal care products (if listed on label) where possible.

-CFL founder offers a program for pregnant and planning to become pregnant consumers.

-For more information about the findings of scientific studies linking phthalate chemicals to myriad of serious health consequences, and where these chemicals are hiding, go to our Blog, scroll down to the search box at the bottom and enter “phthalate”. You can also contact us and we can do a search of our scientific database and send you links.


Journal reference: Welch BM, Keil AP, Buckley JP, Calafat AM, Christenbury KE, Engel SM, O’Brien KM, Rosen EM, James-Todd T, Zota AR, Ferguson KK, and the Pooled Phthalate Exposure and Preterm Birth Study Group. 2022. Associations Between Prenatal Urinary Biomarkers of Phthalate Exposure and Preterm Birth A Pooled Study of 16 US Cohorts. JAMA Pediatrics Journal, doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.2252 [Published online July 11, 2022].


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