When preparing to try to get pregnant or conceive a healthy baby, there are certain things you can do to enhance your journey, and other things you should avoid doing, too. Lifestyle changes such as taking the proper prenatal vitamins and watching out for excess alcohol and caffeine are helpful, but another area you might want to focus on is avoiding certain chemicals that are found in your food and beauty products.
It’s very controversial what may affect a future pregnancy or even the ability to get pregnant, but common lotions, perfumes, makeup, and hair products may contain chemicals that are suboptimal in this precious time period.
Of course, there is no ideal makeup, nail polish, or hair spray to use, because it is still unclear what is actually in many of them. Manufacturers are not mandated to notify consumers of their ingredients, and they don’t often divulge details when it comes to this type of information. So it's up to each one of us to be mindful about what products we choose to buy, especially when we are trying to conceive.
The hope is that organic cosmetics as well as those that are obtained from natural sources may be safer, but in the key window of embryo genesis (the first 12 weeks of pregnancy), it is better to use unnecessary cosmetic products in moderation.
When it comes to food, it’s best to eat whole, unprocessed foods, and to avoid using plastic in your cooking. In short, try to consume things that are as close to their natural form as possible. Artificial colors, flavors and other additives are generally things to look out for.
All that said, focusing your positive energy on the future is the best way to approach your fertility journey. My usual rule of thumb is "everything in moderation," but here are five chemicals that are best to avoid when you’re trying to conceive.
Phthalates are a group of synthetic chemicals used in plastics and some cosmetics that may affect both female and male fertility. They are often used in scented products to make the scent last longer, but they are also found in products that list dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP) as ingredients.
BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical that is often found in many plastics and is known to be an endocrine disrupter. Specifically, studies show that BPA mimics estrogen, an important reproductive hormone for both women and men. So it is generally a good idea to avoid plastic. But it's especially important not to heat up food in plastic (as this releases the BPA). Try to use glass containers whenever possible.
Pesticides are used in agriculture to control weeds, insect infestation, and diseases. They are effective for dealing with these things, but that comes at a price. The chemicals that we pump into the ground may come back and affect our endocrine system and, as a result, fertility.
4. Dioxins & Furan
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dioxins and furans belong to "a family of toxic substances that ... are not made for any specific purposes" but are found in the environment from industrial processes and combustion. Specifically, the EPA reports that around 90% of exposure to dioxins and furans comes from eating contaminated food, and most commonly in meat (these substances build up in the fatty tissues of animals). Ways to possibly avoid these chemicals include eating a low-fat diet, limiting red meat, sticking to low fat dairy, and washing all of your produce.
Polychlorinated biphenyls are harmful chemicals once used in manufacturing. Despite a 1979 ban on PCBs, they still linger in our soil and water. PCBs are part of a group of chemicals called endocrine disruptors that can mimic estrogen in the body, alter your hormone levels, and disrupt your health. Certain fish may have higher levels, so limit your fish intake to 12 oz a week. Also try reducing your intake of high-fat dairy and meats and choose organic products when possible. Finally, peel fruits and vegetables, since PCBs may lie in the peel.
New information like this is always coming out in scientific journals that helps us figure an ideal environment during pregnancy for the growing baby, but because this new information is constantly being discovered, try not to stress about your past too much — just focus on what you can do now and in the future.