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Minimizing Reproductive Hazards

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Last Updated: 12/15/2022

It is prudent for all people of childbearing age to consider the potential reproductive hazards involved in laboratory research. Broadly defined, teratogens are any agent or environmental factor that can lead to an adverse reproductive outcome–including congenital abnormalities.

Faculty, staff and students who intend on becoming pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding can contact Research Safety for confidential assistance and an individualized workplace health & safety evaluation. The decision to declare pregnancy or contact Research Safety to discuss potential reproductive hazards is completely voluntary.

Research Safety, in cooperation with Risk Management, can authorize a medical consultation with an occupational health physician. Medical consultation and records are independent of the Research Safety workplace evaluation.

As considered prudent, Research Safety may recommend additional precautions be established and followed based on the workplace evaluation and medical recommendations.

In All Cases

Follow all Personal Protective Equipment Guidelines established by Research Safety.

Always use a fume hood or biosafety cabinet to limit respiratory exposure.

Carefully evaluate the potential reproductive hazards of your work and create a list of the materials you work with as part of a detailed risk assessment. If you so decide, contact Research Safety and share this information. Research Safety will meet with you privately and visit your laboratory.

Laboratory cleanliness is especially important for laboratory workers of reproductive age and pregnant workers. Avoid touching laboratory work surfaces with unprotected hands.

Wash your hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.

Chemical Hazards

In general, avoid or strictly limit work with toxic metals, chlorinated solvents, cytotoxic drugs, inhalation anesthetics, and newly synthesized compounds with unknown or suspect health hazards.

In identifying chemicals which present a particular risk to a new or expectant mother and their child, pay particular attention to those which carry the following hazard statements on the most current Safety Data Sheet.


H340 May cause genetic defects
H341 Suspected of causing genetic defects
H350 May cause cancer
H351 Suspected of causing cancer
H360 May damage fertility or the unborn child
H361 Suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child
H362 May cause harm to breast-fed children
Biological Hazards

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant consultation with an occupational physician knowledgeable in infectious diseases is advised. Exposure to certain infectious agents during laboratory work and pregnancy is of special concern. Examples are

  • Bacterial meningitis (includes Streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, Neisseria meningitis, Haemophilus influenza, and Listeria monocytogenes1
  • Bloodborne Pathogens2 (Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Hepatitis B virus (HBV), Hepatitis C virus (HCV))
  • Human herpes viruses (Cytomegalovirus3)
  • Hepatitis E virus4
  • Parvovirus B195
  • Rubella virus6
  • Select Agents (for example Q-fever (Coxiella burnetii7))
  • Leishmania, Toxoplasma gondii, or Toxoplasma cruzi (Toxoplasmosis)8
  • Zika virus9
Radiation Hazards

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, please contact Research Safety so we may discuss your potential radiation exposure with you and provide guidance in minimizing the exposure risk.

Research Safety encourages pregnant radiation workers to provide an estimated date of conception because it helps in determining the appropriate precautions to take during the remainder of the pregnancy. Declaration of pregnancy is voluntary. Information must be in writing and shall remain confidential. You can terminate the declaration at any time.

The dose to the embryo or fetus during the entire pregnancy, from occupational exposure, must be limited to 0.5 rem (5 mSv). If occupational circumstances make a dose to the embryo or fetus unavoidable, the exposure should not exceed 0.05 rem (.5 mSv) per month. Fetal radiation monitoring badges are available through Research Safety.

Pregnancy Testing and Reasonable Accommodations

Northwestern University Health Services provides free pregnancy testing to all students covered by NU Student Health Insurance. There is a pregnancy testing fee for others.

Northwestern University Human Resources provides guidelines and policies regarding reasonable accommodations.