14 Tips To Minimize Toxins If You're Pregnant (Or Want To Be)

Nonprofit Organization By Healthy Child Healthy World
Nonprofit Organization
For more than 20 years Healthy Child Healthy World, a non-profit whose mission is to empower families to make better, safer choices, has been protecting children from the harmful effects of toxic chemicals.

If you're pregnant and looking to clean up your environment in order to safeguard your baby's health, we have you covered. Start with the following easy steps (listed in no particular order). For more great information on having a safer pregnancy, download our free e-book. Also? Congrats!

1. Keep it all natural.

Edit down the number of personal care products you use, including makeup, and choose natural versions of the essentials — from toothpaste to deodorant to belly cream. If switching to all new organic products isn't in your budget, try organic food oil like safflower or coconut.

Keep in mind that the word “natural" is largely unregulated, so look for products with third party certification and a solid roster of organic ingredients.

2. Read personal care products labels carefully.

Most ingredients are listed on products, but regulatory gaps allow some to go unmentioned. For example, nanomaterials, microscopic particles of undetermined toxicity, can remain hidden in formulas as trade secrets.

Scents, which can contain multiple chemical hazards, need only be listed as “fragrance." Loopholes like these make it difficult to trust any label entirely. Trust your instincts. If a product's label seems questionable, its claims over-the-top, or its ingredients suspicious, pick another. Relying on products with third party certification and organic ingredients is good common sense.

3. Go fragrance-free.

No one knows exactly what's in the synthetic fragrances found in everything from cream to make up to cleaning products to actual perfume. Fragrance formulas are protected by the government as trade secrets. All manufacturers need to list on their labels is the word fragrance. This one word can indicate a combination of hundreds of different chemicals, none of which need to be listed.

We do know that phthalates, endocrine disruptors linked to reproductive, motor and behavioral development effects, are a common class of fragrance ingredients. It's a good idea to minimize exposure to phthalates when pregnant. Thankfully there are plenty of fragrance-free products to choose from. If you want some scent, use natural or organic essential oils, or a product scented with them.

4. Just say no to spa days, pedicures, hair dyes, and other treatments.

Spa treatments and pregnancy pains seem to go together. But most body and hair treatments rely on toxic products. Conventional nail polishes, for example, contain hazards like dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, xylene, methyl ethyl ketone and/or acetone, chemicals which are collectively capable of causing all kinds of health effects from organ and nervous system damage to hormone disruption and cancer.

Avoiding mani/pedis, certain face peels, and hair dye lowers pregnancy risks. There is no way around that. If you'd like to paint your nails anyway — or for a special occasion — there are some less toxic polishes on the market that don't have some of the worst of these chemicals.

Hair dyes have been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia, and bladder cancer. If you'd like to dye your hair no matter what, talk to your doctor about the best time to do your 'do. Some suggest waiting until the second or third trimester, other suggest highlights instead of a full dye job as a way to lessen the toxic load. Just keep in mind that you'll still be sitting in a salon exposed to fumes from other dyes, hairspray, nail polish and more.

Try to find a well-ventilated salon that uses more natural products. Still wanting a treatment? Get a massage. Just ask your masseuse to use something simple like (organic) jojoba oil on your muscles.

Don't even get us started on spray tans!

5. Practice safe sunscreening.

Sun protection is an essential part of staying healthy and beautiful. Yet many of us achieve that protection in ways that are less than safe. Most sunscreens use three to six of these active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and/or octinoxate.

Oxybenzone is the most common, and studies suggest it may increase the risk of endometriosis and low birth weight. Other sunscreen ingredients are suspected of disrupting hormones and/or causing reproductive and developmental disorders.

Far safer sunscreening strategies include avoiding the sun during peak midday hours, sticking to the shade, and wearing hats and clothing to keep solar rays away. When it comes time to slather on a sunscreen, choose a tube containing a mineral like titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide.

6. Focus on whole foods.

Whole foods are just that — whole. Think unprocessed grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and dairy products, and fresh herbs and spices. Stocking your cabinets and fridge with whole foods is a simple and highly effective way to steer clear of many of the unstudied chemicals found in our food supply, many of which appear in processed and packaged foods. Whole foods are more nutritious, too. Set yourself up for success by shopping right and prioritizing whole foods. If you don't already shop at a farmers' market, give it a try.

7. Choose organic whenever possible.

Organic food is produced without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation treatments, growth hormones, antibiotics, or non-organic feed. In addition, organic foods cannot be genetically modified, a process that often introduces new, never before seen proteins into our food supply with as yet unknown consequences.

Put simply: Eating organic means eating less pesticide residue. If you're not eating organic food yet, the benefits of switching are immediate. Researchers at Emory University found that children who switched to an organic diet reduced the pesticide remnants found in their urine to virtually undetectable levels after just five days.

If you can't eat entirely organic foods during pregnancy, make an effort to choose organic for meat, dairy, and the fruits and vegetables known to retain the highest levels of pesticide residue.

8. Do your own cooking.

You're tired and the last thing you want to do is cook. But consider this: When you dine out, order in, or consume processed packaged foods, you can never be entirely sure what you're eating.

Preparing your own meals at home using fresh, whole ingredients, on the other hand, gives you maximum control over what ends up on your plate. It's the best way to ensure an optimally safe and healthy diet for both you and your baby. Besides, cooking tired is a necessary parenting skill. Consider this training. Imagine all the years of baby food prep, school lunches, and more that you have ahead of you. Cook now and cook often.

9. Eat lower on the food chain.

Fruits and vegetables are largely free of a dangerous class of toxic chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. These include many pesticides, flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins, industrial chemicals, compounds made with chlorine, and other pollutants that behave in similar ways in the environment.

They resist biodegradation and persist for years, move efficiently through the food chain, and can travel great distances from their source. They're also fat-soluble, which means they tend to accumulate in the fatty tissues of people and animals. As a result, measurable quantities of POPs are often present in fatty foods, especially coming from animals highest on the food chain— meat, dairy, and seafood.

When we eat POP-contaminated foods, these poisons accumulate inside us and cross the placental barrier.

Fetal exposure to some POPs has been linked to developmental changes, lower post-birth psychomotor scores, memory and learning problems, and long-term effects on intellectual functioning. Others have been linked to miscarriage, immune system maldevelopment, and low birth weight.

As you eat lower on the food chain to reduce your intake of POPs, though, keep in mind that there are still benefits to keeping some good fat on your plate while pregnant. Just strike a balance.

10. Play it safe with plastics.

Plastic is undeniably handy, but it may contain toxic compounds that can migrate into food, especially when your meal and/or the plastic is hot. It's wise to exercise caution when using plastics while pregnant.

Here's how:

  • Never microwave food in plastic of any kind, including so-called “microwave-safe" containers and self-serve food packaging. Use glassware instead. Or, even better, reheat food on the stove.
  • Don't serve or store foods in plastic containers, especially hot or acidic foods or those containing fats or oils.
  • If you do choose to store food in plastic containers, use only #2 HDPE, #4 LDPE, and #5 PP for the purpose. These types are currently considered safest for food storage by the scientific community.
  • Skip products packaged in #1 PETE plastic, like disposable water, juice, and soda bottles. Studies show that under certain conditions PETE can leach unhealthy amounts of antimony, a toxic metalloid that causes health effects similar to arsenic. And keep in mind #1 bottles are never meant for reuse.
  • Avoid #7 polycarbonate plastic containers and bottles. This plastic type can release bisphenol-A (BPA), a common endocrine-disrupting agent, into the foods and liquids stored inside.
  • Don't wash plastic containers in the dishwasher and/or with dishwasher detergents containing chlorine. This can accelerate the leaching of toxic plastic compounds. They should be hand washed with warm water.
  • Avoid deli wrap and similar plastic wraps. These can contain phthalates, endocrine disrupting chemicals linked to reproductive, mental, motor, and behavioral developmental effects.
  • Recycle or throw out your old plastic containers, especially those that are heavily worn or scratched. Plastics tend to leach increasing amounts of the chemicals they contain as they age and become worn.
  • Use glass bottles for infant feedings.

11. Avoid canned foods.

The interiors of most food cans are coated with a protective lining containing bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor. This can easily migrate into any food stored in the can, especially if the food is acidic.

Prenatal BPA exposure has been linked to post-birth hyperactivity, behavioral changes, chromosome alterations, and even birth defects.

Some manufacturers are now using BPA-free cans and advertise this on their labels. There is an overall lack of information on what is being used to replace the BPA in these cans, though, and no regulation or third party certification when it comes to these claims. So skip canned foods while pregnant and while breastfeeding. Opt instead for fresh, frozen, or dried foods.

12. Cook in stainless steel and cast iron, not non-stick pans.

Until recently most non-stick cookware was made with a chemical that has been linked to cancer, heart disease, infertility, and complications during pregnancy. This chemical — perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA — is so persistent it has been found in low levels in the blood of 98 percent of the general U.S. population. It's an endocrine disruptor and has been linked to low birth weight and impaired fetal growth.

People are exposed to it mainly through easily scratched pans. Non-stick surfaces can also break down at high temperatures and the resulting fumes can cause flu like symptoms in humans and death in birds. In 2005, DuPont settled with the EPA for $16.5 million for allegedly withholding PFOA health risk information.

The EPA called on them and six other chemical companies to voluntarily eliminate PFOA and similar substances from plant emissions and products by 2015. While there are new chemicals now being used to produce non-stick cookware, the safety of these PFOA replacements is largely unknown. Safer cooking options include tried and true durable materials like cast iron, enamel coated cast iron, and stainless steel.

13. Select safer seafood.

Eating seafood is the primary way we are exposed to methyl mercury, a potent neurotoxin. Fish can also be contaminated with PCBs, which are a probable carcinogen.

Still, fish are an important source of good fats known as omega-3 fatty acids that are vital for a healthy pregnancy and fetal development. Eat seafood in moderation and choose types with lower levels of contamination.

14. Test For lead.

Lead is a potent neurotoxicant that is stored in the bones and can be passed to a developing baby through the placenta. Test your paint if your home was built before 1978. The US Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of certified labs where you can send paint samples.

Removal of lead paint must only be done by a professional and pregnant women should stay away from the area until it is thoroughly cleaned. Test your tap water for lead, too, which can migrate from old pipes. Talk to your doctor about having your blood tested for lead.

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