The Missing Link in Maternal Health: Non-Toxic Self-Care
Holistic Health Natural Beauty Personal Care
Some of the unhealthy chemicals we’re exposed to each day can impact the health of a growing baby. Learn why non-toxic personal care is a key aspect of maternal health + how to keep yourself and your growing baby safe from unhealthy chemicals during pregnancy.
Please note: this post is sponsored by Earth Mama Organics though all thoughts and opinions are of course my own. I ONLY work with companies whose products I genuinely trust and believe in. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for me to continue offering free content to Body Unburdened readers!
There’s a whole long list of things you’re told to avoid while pregnant…
And spoiler alert: I’m going to add to it! But it will be fun, I promise. Like, new-non-toxic-lipstick fun. And who doesn’t love a new lipstick!?
Alcohol, second-hand smoke, soft cheeses, deli meats, saunas, sushi, trampolines, caffeine, cats.
This list usually also includes paint and hair dye because of the unhealthy chemicals used in these products, and thank goodness!
But a pregnant woman’s exposure to unhealthy chemicals doesn’t stop with the nursery makeover or at the hair salon.
Like all women everyday, pregnant women are exposed to an astounding number of unhealthy chemicals via their personal care products.
This is a critical aspect of maternal health that most expecting mothers aren’t properly educated about — an aspect of health that’s important for their own wellbeing, but especially that of their developing babies.
QUICK NOTE: Some of the facts included in this blog post are scary! But this is very important information that really needs to be known. Please remember that there are ways to protect yourself from these chemicals and that with knowledge comes power — in this case, the power to make better, safer, healthier choices.
In 2004, the Environmental Working Group screened the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborn babies born in the U.S. for 413 different chemicals. They found:
- A total of 287 different toxins were detected
- 217 of these toxins are neurotoxins
- 180 of these toxins are known to cause cancer in humans or animals
- 208 of these toxins are known to damage growth development or cause birth defects
Pretty crazy, right? And since these chemicals were found in the umbilical cord blood, it means that they were passed from mother to baby while in the womb.
Needless to say, it’s imperative that we all take steps to reduce our exposure to unhealthy chemicals, but especially pregnant women since a teeny tiny, developing baby is even more vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals.
One of the best and most important places to start is with those products that go directly onto our body’s largest organ the skin and then absorbed into our bloodstream: personal care products.
The Missing Link in Maternal Health: Non-toxic Self-Care
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common toxins in personal care products and why it’s so important for pregnant women to steer clear of them.
Endocrine disruptors or endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are among the most concerning chemicals expectant mothers are exposed to are, as well as the most prevalent. As their name suggests, EDCs interfere with the endocrine system, the system of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, mood, and so much more.
Related Post: Endocrine Disruptors: What They Are & How to Protect Yourself
EDCs can be transferred from expecting mothers to the developing baby, as well as through breast milk. According to The World Health Organization:
“Pregnant mothers and children are the most vulnerable populations to be affected by developmental exposures, and the effect of exposures to EDCs may not become evident until later in life.”
Not only can endocrine disrupting chemicals affect developing babies later in their lives, but there’s some evidence that they can also affect future generations: one study on rats showed that exposure to endocrine disruptors during pregnancy affects the brain two generations later!
Even more troubling: there is evidence that exposure to multiple EDCs at once can significantly amplify their individual effects. Scientists have warned:
“There is a very precise critical window during the 1st trimester of fetal development during which simultaneous exposure to weak doses of multiple endocrine disruptors may represent a risk to the development of the child’s genitals and reproductive system. It is particularly concerning as the individual potency of these chemicals can be exacerbated by up to a factor of 1,000.”
So of course, we want to be avoiding endocrine disrupting chemicals as much as possible! Let’s take a look at a few so we can best avoid them — some of the most common EDCs in personal care products include:
- Parabens: A family of preservatives found in most conventional skincare, makeup, and hair products
- Triclosan: This antibacterial agent is most commonly found in antibacterial hand soaps and toothpaste, and sometimes deodorant
Oh goodness, my most hated of all the ingredients! Because it’s just so darn hard to find products without chemical fragrance nowadays — even many of the so-called “natural” products contain chemical fragrance.
So what’s my beef with smelling like a summer breeze or springtime flowers or rainforest dew or [insert silly name of chemical scented product here]? While “fragrance” (sometimes “parfum”) may appear as a single ingredient on ingredient labels, it’s really a grab-bag of any combination of over 3,000 different chemicals that are allowed to be concealed as a “trade secret” under this single term. So when a product contains “fragrance,” we really don’t know what chemicals we’re putting on our skin!
That being said, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that one-third of the substances used in the fragrance industry are toxic. And according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database:
“The word ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.”
Some of the chemicals used in fragrance — like diethyl phthalate — are known endocrine disruptors. And as we’re now very well aware, endocrine disruptors are not to be messed around with.
Aluminum is neurotoxic. Period. Unfortunately, it does a really great job of stopping you from sweating, which is why it’s the active ingredient in most antiperspirant deodorants!
But sweating is a natural and healthy process, and doesn’t necessarily need to lead to body odor. Because it’s when the bacteria living on our skin in the armpits (fun fact: your body is covered in trillions of bacteria!) come into contact with moisture (like sweat) that we can have body odor. Natural deodorants prevent body odor using ingredients that absorb moisture and kill the bacteria that is the true source of body odor.
So why take the risk? Especially when growing a little human inside your body since researchers have noted:
“Exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during critical periods of early life — in utero, neonatal and during infancy — are of particular concern. The proper function of the brain depends on the integrity of the whole central nervous system (CNS). Any developmental toxicity capable of affecting optimal development can have life-long consequences; minimal dysfunction can negatively impact quality of life by increasing the risk of health problems and socioeconomic achievements. Subtle neurochemical effects can have a profound and lasting influence on life trajectory.”
Choosing safer personal care products
As a self-proclaimed natural beauty junkie, I share a lot of non-toxic and natural DIY skincare and beauty recipes as well options for purchase here on the blog and in my book.
When it comes to pregnancy-specific products, Earth Mama Organics has you covered.
Earth Mama’s on a mission to provide safe, effective, all-natural and organic products to protect and pamper expecting moms, new moms, and babies. Their products are traditional plant medicine meets contemporary evidence-based research, and by the rave reviews and cult following they’ve gained (including my own sister whose used the products throughout all 3 of her pregnancies!) it’s clear that this is a combo that works.
Earth Mama product are also really reasonably priced and available at many Targets and other local stores (you can find which stores near you carry Earth Mama products here).
Some of their must-have products for moms-to-be:
- Belly Butter | This belly balm is filled with oils and pregnancy-safe essential oils that moisturize, nourish, and condition the skin as it stretches with your growing belly and any love-chub (I just coined that term but I think it makes sense! Of course weight gain during pregnancy is natural and necessary to bring this little being of pure love into the world). It definitely doesn’t need to be limited to the belly! Rub it anywhere and everywhere that you’re concerned about stretch marks — your breasts, butt, thighs… wherever!
- Belly Oil | Like the Belly Butter, this luxurious belly oil helps to condition the skin to prevent stretch marks
- Natural Deodorant | I was SO excited to learn that Earth Mama recently released a whole line of deodorant! Now there are a lot of natural deodorants out there, but theirs are specifically formulated with pregnancy-safe essential oils and work wonderfully, even for very sensitive skin types.
- Baby Face Organic Lip and Cheek Balm | OK so this one’s supposed to be for babies but I love it as a super nourishing balm for hands, elbows, and even my lips and face (I keep the little ½ oz tube in my purse and car). Another totally safe product to help expecting moms maintain their skin health.
And for when the little bundle of joy arrives (i.e. postpartum):
- Organic Nipple Butter | USDA certified organic and certified non-GMO, this nipple balm is as safe for your baby as it is for your body — you don’t even have to worry about washing it off before breastfeeding. It’s started to grow a cult following amongst new moms — take a scroll through the reviews, which read “life saver” and “miracle butter” over and over 🙂
- Herbal Perineal Spray | After reading the rave reviews, I’ve made a mental note (with permanent marker) to stock up when/if I get pregnant in the future!
Earth Mama also has a bunch herbal teas to support expecting and new moms that all look amazing (I’ve only ever personally tried the Periodic Tea which is for premenstrual cramping and bloating). I mean, Organic Morning Wellness Tea to help ease morning sickness? Organic Third Trimester Tea to help comfort you through the changes specific to the later states of pregnancy? Organic Milk Maid Tea to support breastmilk production? All mommies need these organic herbal remedies!
These would all make for a GREAT gift for any expecting or new mom.
There are so many diapers and little onesies and bibs at baby showers — how about something useful, healthy, and helpful for mom!?
Most importantly, these natural, effective products help to keep mom and baby safe by reducing their exposure to unhealthy chemicals.
I agree that we must be really careful not to use toxic products during pregnancy. Best is if you use 100 percent minimally processed natural things, like avocado oil. Thanks for this post.
This is wonderful and so important. I actually really paid attention when I was pregnant with my second. I replaced all my beauty and personal care products with natural ones. I wish I would have known what I know now with my first…
And I thought using cocoa butter on my belly was maternal self-care (14 years ago)! There’s SO much more!
Interesting! To to the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide I’d assume – most conventional sunscreens use oxybenzone or avobenzone as the active ingredients.
If you could determine which one causes the reaction – the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – then you could hopefully find a better alternative using the other!
Yes! traditional products cause so many problems when it comes to our hormones and thus overall health. Making the swap is a huge step towards improved health.
Thanks, Nadia. As I’ve tried green beauty sunscreen, BB cream and foundation, three different brands make my eyes burn. I think I have an allergy but I don’t know to what. I find this ironic because I never had an issue with “toxic” products. I appreciate you listening and calling attention to this important topic. Great info.