BPA Exposure During Pregnancy May Make Girls Aggressive, Hyperactive


Women who are exposed to BPA (bisphenol A) during pregnancy may give birth to girls who display more behavioral and emotional problems at age 3, according to new research. Young girls with detectable BPA were found to be more aggressive, anxious, depressed, and hyperactive, while these traits were not associated with increasing concentrations of BPA in boys.

BPA exposure has a wide range of health effects

The number of studies naming BPA, a chemical used to make plastic containers and found in the lining of food cans and on thermal paper receipts, as a health hazard has been growing. Recent reports have named the substance as disrupting male sexual function, increasing the risk of asthma among children, and raising the risk of heart disease, especially in women, among other concerns.

The impact of BPA exposure on the fetus has been another area of deep concern. This latest study, conducted by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, follows two previous studies in which exposure to BPA in the womb was found to affect children’s behavior, although this study is the first to indicate that exposure in the womb is more important than exposure during childhood, according to lead author Joe Braun, research fellow in environmental health at HSPH.

The investigators evaluated data from 244 mothers and their 3-year-old children, including urine samples taken during pregnancy and at birth, and from their children yearly from ages 1 to 3. Mothers completed surveys concerning their children’s behavior when they reached age 3.


Although none of the children had behavior that was clinically abnormal, some had more behavior issues than others. Therefore the researchers looked at the relationship between the BPA concentrations in the moms and their children and how they related to the children’s behaviors.

More than 85% of the urine samples from the mothers contained BPA, while more than 96% of the children’s samples contained the chemical. Although the BPA levels in the children decreased with age, they were still higher and more variable than those of their mothers.

Even after the researchers made allowances for other factors, they found that increasing gestational BPA concentrations were associated with more hyperactivity, anxiety, aggression, and depressed behavior and poorer emotional control and inhibition in girls, while this relationship was not observed in boys. Braun noted that “Gestational, but not childhood BPA exposures, may impact neurobehavioral function, and girls appear to be more sensitive to BPA than boys.”

This study obviously will not be the last to explore the relationship between BPA exposure and behavioral and emotional problems in children. While further research is conducted, women who are pregnant or who plan to get pregnant would be wise to avoid BPA as much as possible. The greatest exposures come from canned and packaged foods, plastic bottles with the number 7 recycling symbol, and thermal paper sales receipts.

Braun JM et al. Pediatrics, online 24 Oct. 2011;

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons