You’re growing a tiny little human inside of your body (in other words: you’re amazing, mama!) and you want that little human to be as healthy as possible.
And you know that your baby’s health begins far before he/she arrives in this world, screaming his/her cute little head off — your baby’s health starts with you and your health.
Since your exposure to everyday chemicals and your body burden play an integral role in your health, it follows that it also plays a role in your baby’s health.
In addition to your genes, your baby will inherit some of your body burden.
It’s a very unfortunate fact.
Scientists estimate that adult humans each have a body burden consisting of over 700 man-made chemicals. And studies show that babies nowadays are born with over 200 man-made chemicals already in their tiny little bodies. So it goes without saying that these chemicals are passed down from mom to baby in utero.
Now what follows may be scary, but don’t be scared! Because after I talk about the facts, I’m going to give you some tips for how you can prevent exposure to some of these chemicals.
A mother’s exposure to chemicals can impact the developing baby, from fetus to adulthood.
In October of 2013, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine released a paper entitled Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents. Noted in the abstract:
Prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can have a profound and lasting effect on reproductive health across the life course. Prenatal exposure to certain chemicals has been documented to increase the risk of cancer in childhood…
The evidence that links exposure to toxic environmental agents and adverse reproductive and developmental health outcomes is sufficiently robust, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine join leading scientists and other clinical practitioners in calling for timely action to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents while addressing the consequences of such exposure.
Fortunately, you can take some very simple steps to reduce the amount of everyday chemicals you encounter during your pregnancy.
10 tips for a non-toxic pregnancy:
1. Choose organic, whole foods as much as possible.
Of course this one comes first! Because we eat three times a day, everyday, and what we eat greatly affects our health. While there are no widely-cited studies showing the benefits of an organic diet during pregnancy specifically, an organic diet has been clinically shown to decrease chemical pesticide levels in individuals (plus, organic produce has been shown to be more nutrient-dense, which is always very important, but especially so while pregnant).
(Interestingly, this New York Times article does also mention a study that found a lower IQ in children whose mothers ate a conventional diet compared to children whose mothers ate an organic diet, though I was unable to find the original study.)
I know that it is really hard if not impossible for us to buy organic all of the time. But keep in mind the most important foods to buy organic, and prioritize those. If nothing else, choose whole foods — even if not organic — over processed foods, which can contain trace contaminants from the processing process and packaging, and are often loaded with refined sugar and unhealthy oils.
2. Avoid plastic food and beverage containers.
Last year, The Telegraph discussed a study that found a connection between the chemicals in plastics and miscarriage, stating, “Pregnant women have been warned to avoid canned foods, microwaved food and plastic water bottles left out in the sun after a study found certain chemicals can increase the risk of miscarriage by 80 per cent.”
In addition, a study conducted at Harvard in 2011 and published in Pediatrics, found that girls exposed to BPA before birth are more likely to exhibit behavior problems by the age of 3. The girls whose moms had the highest levels of BPA in their urine were more likely to be aggressive, anxious, and hyperactive and have poor emotional control.
By now, you’re likely very familiar with BPA. Well, BPA is also very familiar with you: tests have found BPA in 93% of all individuals and 96% of pregnant women. BPA is a known endocrine-disruptor (in other words, it messes with your hormones). This is not something we want. After all, our hormones have jobs to do, and we don’t want anything getting in their way! Now, I hate BPA-free products because they are misleading — it’s natural to assume they’re safer. However, most often BPA is replaced with BPS, BPA’s chemical cousin that’s just as troubling as the original.
3. Use natural cleaning products.
Many modern-day cleaning products are filled with some pretty concerning chemical ingredients! Volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) are one such concern. VOCs are actually gasses that are released from certain chemicals. A 2008 study conducted at Bristol University found that children whose pregnant mothers used a significant amount of caustic cleaning products such as bleach were 41% more likely to suffer wheezing and asthma by the age of seven, likely because of inflammation in the airways.
But this is a tip that should continue long past giving birth: “It’s difficult to separate the effects in pregnancy from the effects of exposure after birth because many of the mothers continue to use the cleaning products afterwards. But if you are using cleaners that are strongly scented it’s a good rule of thumb to minimise use during pregnancy and ensure you’re in a well-ventilated environment.”
4. Use all-natural, non-toxic cosmetics, body and skincare items.
This is something I suggest all women do all the time, so of course I’m including it here!
I’s a no-brainer — your skin is your body’s largest organ and absorbs a majority of whatever you apply to it, so best to make sure it’s all-natural and/or organic.
The average woman applies hundreds of chemicals to her body each day, some of which are known endocrine disruptors or neurotoxins, or have even been linked to cancer. The fact is, chemical use in consumer products is NOT well-regulated in the US. WHile the EU has banned over 1,000 chemicals for use in cosmetics because of the aforementioned concerns, the US has banned just 5… Scary, right?
Going natural with your beauty routine does not mean you need to give up luxury! There are a number of natural lines that make absolutely lovely products.
5. Avoid pregnancy pillows treated with flame retardants.
These nasties are super-duper scary! According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Exposure to toxic flame retardants has been linked to real and measurable health impacts. Women with higher levels of flame retardants in their blood take longer to get pregnant and have smaller babies. Children exposed in the womb have lower IQs and attention problems. Other studies have linked flame retardants to cancer, male infertility, male birth defects, and early puberty in girls. Recent studies in animals linked toxic flame retardants to autism and obesity.”
How can you make sure your pregnancy pillow is not treated with flame retardants? Check with the manufacturer before you buy. Some manufacturers state explicitly on their labels or on their website that their products do not contain flame retardants. I’ve done some homework for you and found this LifeKind wool and organic cotton body pillow (this company also sells crib mattresses and bedding).
6. Kick shoes off at the front door.
Wearing your shoes indoors is accountable for a whopping 60% of indoor air pollution. A recent study found 22 pesticides were commonly found in the dust of homes in Salinas, California. Salinas is an agricultural community, but not all the pesticides found were agricultural pesticides. The US EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health have found that low-level, chronic pesticide exposure as found in these homes can cause numerous health problems, especially for fetuses and young children. Other studies have found that coal tar (a known carcinogen used in driveway sealants), lead (low levels of which can cause a reduction in IQ while elevated levels cause more severe damage ranging from behavior disorders and anemia to mental retardation and permanent nerve damage) and other heavy metals are tracked into homes by shoes.
Taking shoes off at the door is especially important if you have carpets, which trap contaminants. Furthermore, since infants and young children spend a great deal of time on the floor, you’ll want to keep these surfaces as clean as possible for when your bundle of joy arrives!
7. Ditch non-stick cookware.
According a 2012 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the chemical compounds PCFs found in non-stick cookware (as well as packaging and water-resistant clothing) may interfere with fat metabolism, causing babies to have lower birth weights and then weight gain later in life. PCFs are found in most of our bodies and are bioaccumulative (again, they hang out in your body for a very long time and so can add up). The study found that if the concentration of PCFs in the mother’s blood stream was high, their babies tended to have lower birth rates and higher-than-average weights at age 20 months. A related study in Denmark showed that girls exposed to PCFs in the womb were more likely to be overweight at 20 years of age.
8. Leave the nursery painting to your partner or handy(wo)man.
Painting a nursery? That’s so exciting but DO NOT get in on the action, mama! Prop your feet up and munch on some organic fruit while someone else does that dirty work. Because remember the VOCs we talked about in conventional cleaning products? Paint is LOADED with these nasties.
I highly suggest choosing a low-toxic, non-VOC paint for your nursery (and home, generally!) to help make sure you welcome your little one home to a safe, healthy space. Even with a safer paint option, be sure to prop the windows open for ventilation and steer clear of the action.
9. Let those roots be… or choose a natural coloring option.
There are a whole bunch of conventional tips for expecting mothers regarding hair dyes because of the caustic chemicals they contain: wait until the second trimester to dye their hair, choose highlights over single-process (so the dye doesn’t touch the scalp), and use ammonia-free dyes. These are all great suggestions that I did want to reiterate… though I would go further and suggest either avoiding hair dye if possible or finding a natural alternative if coverage is a must for you!
Henna is a great option for at-home color. You can also do some research and call around to salons in your area to ask if they have any natural dyes.
10. Consider Supplementing with chlorella.
Chlorella is a type of algae that is used for both its detoxification and nutritional benefits. While detoxification is not advised during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, chlorella works by soaking up impurities in the body rather than releasing them. For this reason, it is believed to be safe.
In addition to being jam-packed with chlorophyll, chlorella contains proteins with the all of the naturally occurring amino acids, as well as vitamins A and C, folic acid, vitamin B-12, calcium, zinc, and iron. (Nice!)
A Japanese study with healthy pregnant women found that taking 6,000 mg of chlorella per day during pregnancy significantly reduced the amount of dioxins in breast milk compared to those not taking chlorella (a 40% reduction). Additionally, the sIGA was higher in their breast milk of the women taking chlorella, meaning their children received better quality immune support.
Of course, I suggest you to discuss any supplements you’d like to start taking with your medical professional beforehand.
What other tips would you include on this list?
I’d love to hear from you!