A new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics suggests that pregnant people who are exposed to certain chemicals are more likely to deliver their babies prematurely.

The study is the largest on the topic to date, and represents a compilation of 16 prior studies that looked at data from 6,045 pregnant women in the United States. The analysis found that women who have higher concentrations of phthalate metabolites in their urine were more likely to have babies preterm, three or more weeks before the mom's due date.

Dr. Emily Barreett is an associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors. In the press release, Dr. Barrett said the study provided compelling evidence that everyday chemicals in our environment are problematic.

In an interview with TODAY, she said that our environment and the chemicals we encounter in it have an impact on a woman's ability to have a healthy pregnancy.

Phthalates are also called plasticizers and are manmade chemicals that make plastics more flexible and durable. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention have all issued warnings about exposure to the chemicals, as there is rapidly growing evidence that exposure to phthalates adversely affects human health.

Despite the warnings about the effects, phthalates are still found in a number of household goods. These include:
  • Adhesives
  • Cleaners
  • Liquids in plastic bottles
  • Brightly colored products like ink, paints and toys
  • Items made with soft, flexible plastics
  • Cosmetics like nail polish
  • Creams, lotions, shampoos, body washes, deodorants and diaper creams
  • Certain foods, particularly highly processed foods
People who live near hazardous waste disposal sites or landfills may also be exposed to low levels of phthalates in their drinking water or the air.

It's nearly impossible to avoid chemicals, but there are things one can do to limit exposure. These include:

  • Reading labels and buying things that are paraben, BPA and phthalate free
  • Limit or eliminate fast food intake--wrapping is usually plastic coated and harmful chemicals can leak into food
  • Do not use plastic containers to store or heat food
  • Use glass to microwave foods, not plastic
  • Buy products that are fragrance-free
It's also crucial to avoid exposure to phthalates as much as you can when pregnant as babies in utero are especially vulnerable. Developing children are as well, as phthalate exposure can interfere with brain development and growth, as well as problems with health later in life.

Start small. Start with being aware there are issues and ignoring the noise of the world that tells you you're being too picky. It's too important not to pay attention and avoid as you can.