Relationships of chemical concentrations in maternal and cord blood: a review of available data

J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2014;17(3):175-203. doi: 10.1080/10937404.2014.884956.


The developing fetus is likely to be exposed to the same environmental chemicals as the mother during critical periods of growth and development. The degree of maternal-fetal transfer of chemical compounds will be affected by chemical and physical properties such as lipophilicity, protein binding, and active transport mechanisms that influence absorption and distribution in maternal tissues. However, these transfer processes are not fully understood for most environmental chemicals. This review summarizes reported data from more than 100 studies on the ratios of cord:maternal blood concentrations for a range of chemicals including brominated flame-retardant compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans, organochlorine pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, metals, and tobacco smoke components. The studies for the chemical classes represented suggest that chemicals frequently detected in maternal blood will also be detectable in cord blood. For most chemical classes, cord blood concentrations were found to be similar to or lower than those in maternal blood, with reported cord:maternal ratios generally between 0.1 and 1. Exceptions were observed for selected brominated flame-retardant compounds, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and some metals, for which reported ratios were consistently greater than 1. Careful interpretation of the data in a risk assessment context is required because measured concentrations of environmental chemicals in cord blood (and thus the fetus) do not necessarily imply adverse effects or risk. Guidelines and recommendations for future cord:maternal blood biomonitoring studies are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Environmental Pollutants / chemistry
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange*
  • Placenta / physiology
  • Pregnancy


  • Environmental Pollutants