The debate about the safety of antibacterial products and the wisdom of using them in everything from toothpaste to socks to hand gels has been simmering for several years now. Several companies, including Johnson & Johnson, have even committed to phasing them out. The latest? In August, as consumer groups put pressure on retailers and companies like Colgate to ditch the chemicals, evidence revealed in a meeting of the American Chemical Society hinted that there are serious prenatal issues to consider.

Researchers at Arizona State University examined pregnant women’s exposure to two of the most common antibacterial ingredients, triclosan and triclocarban. Triclosan was discovered in the urine of every test subject and in half of all umbilical cord blood samples, many of which also contained triclocarban. These findings indicate widespread fetal exposure to these chemicals.

That’s worrisome because triclosan is increasingly suspected of contributing to or causing an array of serious health effects, including cancer, endocrine disruption, liver toxicity, reduced fertility, muscle impairment, antibiotic resistance, and developmental defects like bone malformation, irregular skull growth, and lower fetal weight.

While this new study does not connect any cause-and-effect dots between fetal exposure to antibacterial chemicals and these and other outcomes, it does show that babies are encountering them during crucial periods of in utero development. This is a strong indication that it would be wise for expectant mothers to take a precautionary stance when it comes to soaps, toothpastes, and other consumer products containing triclosan and triclocarban.

A traditional approach to product safety involves using a product or material unless or until evidence demonstrating its harm emerges. Living by the precautionary principle means generally avoiding a given product until definitive proof of its safety can be provided.

In the case of the case of triclosan and triclocarban, no such proof of safety has yet been shown. Until it has, it seems smart that everyone—pregnant or not—take precaution. Check labels carefully and steer clear of products that include these ingredients or promise antibacterial performance. This is especially important during back-to-school season, a time when antibacterials tend to proliferate. Parents and teachers who want to keep little hands germ-free in the classroom, cafeteria, and playground should rely on hand sanitizers made without antibacterial agents. Washing hands with plain old soap and water is actually the best way to reduce microbes on them, so says the CDC. That’s advice pregnant women should take to heart.

This post was originally posted on Healthy Child, Healthy World and it’s a good reminder that we need to stay away from triclosan!