Low level lead exposure and pregnancy outcomes: dose–response relationships

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National and international guidelines on safe levels for blood Pb in pregnancy focus on a threshold above which exposure is of concern. However, it has recently been suggested that the decrease in birth weight per unit increase in blood Pb is actually greater at lower than at higher concentrations of Pb without evidence of a lower threshold of effect. Our aim was to investigate whether there was evidence for a differential effect of maternal Pb levels on birth outcomes and/or a threshold value for effects.

Blood samples from pregnant women enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) were analysed. Data collected on the infants included anthropometric variables. We fitted adjusted multivariable fractional polynomial models for birth outcomes.

Adjusted models that assumed a linear relationship between untransformed blood Pb and the outcomes provided the best fit: an increase of 1 µg/dl was associated with changes in birth weight of –9.93 (95% CI –20.27, 0.41) g, head circumference –0.03 (95% CI –0.06, 0.00) cm and crown–heel length –0.05 (95% CI –0.10, 0.00) cm.

There was no evidence in this study to suggest a supralinear dose–response relationship or a lower threshold for the effect of maternal blood Pb on birth outcomes. This has implications for consideration of national and international guidelines on levels of concern in pregnancy. Exposure to Pb should be kept as low as possible during pregnancy to minimise adverse outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number291
Number of pages5
JournalBMC Research Notes
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2016


  • lead
  • pregnancy
  • birth outcomes
  • dose–response


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