Maternal diet quality moderates associations between parabens and birth outcomes

Diana C. Pacyga, Nicole M. Talge, Joseph C. Gardiner, Antonia M. Calafat, Susan L. Schantz, Rita S. Strakovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/objective: Maternal paraben exposure and diet quality are both independently associated with birth outcomes, but whether these interact is unknown. We assessed sex-specific associations of parabens with birth outcomes and differences by maternal diet quality. Methods: Illinois pregnant women (n = 458) provided five first-morning urines collected at 8–40 weeks gestation, which we pooled for quantification of ethylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben concentrations. We collected/measured gestational age at delivery, birth weight, body length, and head circumference within 24 h of birth, and calculated sex-specific birth weight-for-gestational-age z-scores and weight/length ratio. Women completed three-month food frequency questionnaires in early and mid-to-late pregnancy, which we used to calculate the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI)-2010. Linear regression models evaluated sex-specific associations of parabens with birth outcomes, and differences in associations by average pregnancy AHEI-2010. Results: In this predominately non-Hispanic white, college-educated sample, maternal urinary paraben concentrations were only modestly inversely associated with head circumference and gestational length. However, methylparaben and propylparaben were inversely associated with birth weight, birth weight z-scores, body length, and weight/length ratio in female, but not male newborns. For example, each 2-fold increase in methylparaben concentrations was associated with −46.61 g (95% CI: −74.70, −18.51) lower birth weight, −0.09 (95% CI: −0.15, −0.03) lower birth weight z-scores, −0.21 cm (95% CI: −0.34, −0.07) shorter body length, and −0.64 g/cm (95% CI: −1.10, −0.19) smaller weight/length ratio in females. These inverse associations were more prominent in females of mothers with poorer diets (AHEI-2010 < median), but attenuated in those with healthier diets (AHEI-2010 ≥ median). In newborn males of mothers with healthier diets, moderate inverse associations emerged for propylparaben with gestational length and head circumference. Conclusions: Maternal diet may moderate associations of parabens with birth size in a sex-specific manner. Additional studies may consider understanding the inflammatory and metabolic mechanisms underlying these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114078
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Birth size
  • Gestational length
  • Head circumference
  • Maternal diet
  • Newborn sex
  • Parabens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Biochemistry


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