How To Avoid Toxins During Your Pregnancy
By Marilee Nelson |
If you’re a health-conscious mother-to-be, you’re already aware of how important it is to be selective about what you put into your body.
You may even have embarked on a detox cleanse to prepare for pregnancy, opted for home-based or low-tech prenatal care, or adopted a nutrient-dense diet to ensure your baby gets everything she or he needs for optimal development.
But, what you put on and use around the body is just as important!
That’s because few of the toxins we’re exposed to on a daily basis—from plastics to cosmetic ingredients—have ever been tested for safety in pregnant women or developing babies. And when news does surface about a potentially harmful toxin, the experts can’t seem to agree on just how harmful it is.
Use of synthetic hair color during pregnancy, for example, is still controversial. Yet, most doctors will tell you not to worry about it. Plus, pregnancy toxins often hide out in innocent looking and unsuspecting places (even within products marketed to pregnant women and babies).
Today, we’re taking the guess-work out of avoiding common toxins during pregnancy. Specifically, we’ll discuss how to avoid them at home in your food, cleaning products, body and skin care, and look at safe alternatives.
The Relationship Between Toxins And Pregnancy
A few decades ago, very little mind was paid to the threat of everyday chemicals to pregnant women. And a century ago, no one thought about it at all. However, a growing body of research shows that a variety of household chemicals can have a negative impact on a healthy pregnancy and the developing fetus.
This is not surprising given that there are over 80,000 registered chemicals floating around our environment. Of those 80,000 chemicals, only a fraction of them have any toxicity data.
Some of the biggest chemicals of concern found in this study were: BPA, flame retardants, PFASs (“forever chemicals” used in non-stick, waterproof grease- and stain-resistant coatings), fragrance chemicals, and PCBs.
This is a big problem for pregnant women because these chemicals are known endocrine disruptors. Which, even in small amounts, can negatively impact pregnancy outcomes and proper fetal development.
They’ve also been linked to birth defects, an increased risk of a variety of cancers, thyroid disease, hormonal imbalances, neurodevelopmental issues, metabolic disease, preterm birth, and a slew of other problems.
Per the Physicians for Social Responsibility,
- Mercury: linked to reduced IQ and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism.
- Lead: linked to behavioral disorders, reduced IQ, and increased risk of preterm labor.
- Pesticides: associated with impaired fetal growth, cognitive and neurodevelopmental issues, increased susceptibility to testicular and childhood cancers (and many other risks we don’t have time to cover in this article).
- PCBs (banned substance still present in waterways): increased risk of ADD/ADHD, reduced IQ, and higher body mass index.
- BPA: a plastic chemical linked to birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, possibly obesity, and diabetes.
- Solvents: increased risk of fetal loss and miscarriage.
- Phthalates: plastic chemicals linked to birth defects; shortened gestational age; impaired neurodevelopment in girls.
- Perfluorochemicals (PFASs/PFAOs): linked to reduced birth weight and birth defects
- Chemicals in cigarette smoke: associated with learning and behavioral disorders; reduced IQ, increased risk of cancer
And no, you can’t avoid all of them all of the time… and that’s okay.
Why? Because your body’s barrier systems and detoxification pathways, along with your baby’s placenta are beautifully designed to protect you both from a reasonable amount of toxicity. So, the goal is to keep that level of exposure reasonably low by controlling what you can.
How do you do that? We don’t have a say about exposures we might have when we go to work, school, restaurants, etc. but we do have control of products we choose to buy and keep in our homes.
Creating a healthy home by removing the common sources of these chemicals from your home environment and replacing with non-toxic ones gives you a safe haven to come home to where you can get a break to rest, repair, and rejuvenate from the day’s exposures. Let’s get started.
Pregnancy - What Better Time to Toss the Toxins In Your Home!
Pregnancy is the perfect time to get empowered and excited about removing these toxins from your home for good.
The first step is to understand where they’re lurking, which isn’t always obvious. From there, you can remove these products and items from your home and replace them with non-toxic alternatives.
If you had to choose just one area of your home to detoxify for pregnancy, your cleaning caddy/ laundry room would be it. That’s because chemical-based, and even some “green” cleaning products contain the majority of the aforementioned chemicals pregnant women should avoid.
Some of the most common include solvents, phthalates, fragrance (which can contain dozens of chemicals nested under the label “fragrance”), perfluorochemicals, and others like antibacterial agents which disrupt mom’s microbiome and immunity, ammonia—which is a lung irritant that can increase your risk of asthma when airborne,
What to use instead: Branch Basics Concentrate can be used to replace any and all your household cleaners; from bathroom, surface, floor, and window cleaner to laundry products, produce wash, and even for washing your pets.
You can also clean almost anything with distilled white vinegar (windows, floors, surfaces), baking soda, and 100% pure castile soap. Steam cleaners and dry steam cleaners are great options for floors and surfaces too.
For natural disinfecting, we recommend a combination of distilled white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide—used separately and stored in separate bottles. Get the full tutorial in: How To Naturally Clean And Disinfect Surfaces. For quick disinfecting action, try dry steam cleaning.
To learn more, check out: How to Detox Your Home.
Pesticide exposure can often feel like it’s beyond our control, but there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure outside the home. Going for a walk in a city park? Call the Parks and Recreation Department to get their spraying schedule. If you're going to stay in a hotel ask for rooms that weren't recently sprayed. Ground floors are usually the most heavily sprayed so request an upper level room. Stay in a bed and breakfast that hasn’t been treated in the last month at least. If you work in an office with an extermination schedule, offer information about non-toxic integrated pest management.
At home, we can greatly reduce exposure by focusing on the pesticides we bring into our homes.
The most common sources of pesticides at home are:
- Our food—non-organic food harbors varying levels of pesticide residue.
- Solution: buy organic, naturally grown produce as much as possible. When not possible, avoid the Dirty Dozen, opt for the Clean Fifteen, and wash everything using Branch Basics All Purpose or a non-toxic produce wash you trust.
- Lawn and garden products—like weed killer, pest sprays, and lawn care chemicals (including those from lawn services).
- Solution: remove all products from the home and garage and opt for natural lawn and garden care, and check out Our Guide: How to Replace Toxic Pesticides.
- Cleaning and laundry products—often contain EPA-registered pesticides, such as bleach.
- See previous section
- Our water—pesticides leach into groundwater and are washed into rivers, lakes, and municipal waterways. This means, they’re present in nearly all unfiltered or inadequately filtered city and well water.
- Solution: check out: How to Choose the Best Water Filter for Every Home and Budget.
- Chemical bug sprays—are indeed pesticides! This includes cockroach sprays, insect repellants for the outdoors, and any chemicals applied by professionals for termites, roaches, etc.
- Solution: remove all pesticides from the home and garage and switch to non-toxic pesticides and bug-sprays (DIY or brands like Buzz Away). See below for our article on non-toxic pesticide alternatives.
- Our shoes—which track in pesticides from wherever we may be walking such as parks, sidewalks, lawns, etc.
- Solution: adopt a no-shoes indoors policy, and stick to it! This will be much healthier for crawling babies too.
- Pets—tick and flea collars and topical medicines.
- Ask your veterinarian about appropriate non-toxic solutions, like Naturally Pet.
By removing all harmful pesticides, you’ll greatly reduce your everyday exposure.
For more tips on pesticide removal and alternatives, check out: How To Remove Pesticide From Your Home In 8 Simple Steps, and The Best Non-Toxic Pesticide Alternatives.
Avoid Plastic Chemicals Like BPA, Phthalates, BPS, BPB, etc.
BPA and phthalates are the main plastic chemicals of official concern when it comes to pregnancy issues because they are the ones we have the most data on. They have been shown to accumulate in human tissue and can cause pregnancy-specific problems such as endocrine disruption, birth defects, an increased risk of cancer, increased risk of ADD/ADHD and neurodevelopmental disorders in children, obesity, and diabetes.
BPA is found in household products, including:
- Hard plastic containers (unless labeled BPA-free…which then contain BPS, which is also toxic!)
- Canned food (unless labeled BPA-free)
- Can lids
- Baby formula stored in cans
- Tupperware made before 2010
- Plastic kitchen items including cutlery, cutting boards, cooking utensils, etc.
- Pizza boxes
- Recycled Paper towels
- Recycled Paper napkins
- Recycled Paper plates
- Recycled Toilet paper
- Epoxy resins
- All Recycled paper products
- Sports, safety, and electronic equipment
- Coffee makers
- Food processors
- Hard Plastic toys
Phthalates are found in household products, including:
- Soft plastics
- Shower curtains
- Vinyl flooring
- Vinyl Window shades
- Air Fresheners
- Baby food and formula
- Personal care products
- Fragranced household products
- Soft plastic toys
- Medical devices - IVs, catheters, etc.
However, BPA and phthalates are only two of many plastic-based chemicals that we come into contact with on a daily basis.
For example, in plastic packaging alone over 4,000 chemicals are potentially used. Of these, at least 63 have been identified as hazardous to human health. Plus, there are additional chemicals (known formerly as non-intentionally added substances or NIASs) added during manufacturing that help enhance durability, flexibility, finish, etc.
Thus, we would suggest you, replace your plastic items with glass, stainless steel, stoneware, or silicone options.
For food storage, reusable silicone bags, wax paper bags, and beeswax wrap are all good options.
For cutting boards, definitely switch to a high-quality wooden cutting board.
Plastic water bottles, storage containers, snack cups, sippy cups, coffee cups, tea kettles, coffee makers, etc. can all be replaced with either glass or stainless steel or silicone versions.
We’d also recommend steering clear of as many plastic-based baby products as possible. There are many great options for glass baby bottles, stainless steel sippy cups, pacifiers made from natural rubber, and wood-based toys. Learn more in: Our Non-Toxic Baby Registry and Creating a Non-Toxic Baby Nursery.
To learn more, check out: 8 Ways to Consume Less Plastic.
Clean Eating For Two
We’ve already discussed the problems with pesticide residues and plastic chemicals in foods. These can be avoided by choosing organic/naturally grown foods, staying away from the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables, storing food in non-plastic containers, and cooking at home and buying clean prepared foods as much as possible.
In addition, pregnant women—and anyone concerned about true clean eating, should be aware of additives and artificial ingredients found in processed foods.
Excitotoxins, for example, are added to prepared foods to make them more flavorful…and addictive. The problem with these is they target the brain, which can lead to neurodevelopmental damage in children and developing babies.
The idea of a little here and there could be problematic for your baby’s developing brain and nervous system.
The most infamous excitotoxin is MSG, which goes by dozens of “code names” like hydrolyzed yeast and natural flavoring.
But there are other lesser-known excitotoxins hiding in many of our favorite prepared foods…including “organic” or “all natural” brands. Some of these include: aspartic acid, guar gum, carrageenan, and citric acid.
The best way to avoid them is to avoid processed foods as much as possible, and scrutinize labels on all prepared foods. Once you find some brands you can trust, this will become second-nature.
A final word: when you focus your nutrition efforts on eating plenty of real, whole, organic foods prepared (most of the time) at home, you’ll naturally avoid most of these toxins.
For more advice on nutrient-dense foods and optimizing nutrition, we recommend: How to Toss The Toxins In Your Pantry And Refrigerator, How Excitotoxins In Our Diets Are Affecting Our Health, and Everything Expectant Parents Need For A Natural Pregnancy.
Your Skincare Might Include Toxins
It may come as a surprise that most conventional personal care items, including skin care, body care, and hair care products contain harmful chemicals.
This is because the skin and cosmetic industries are not regulated by the FDA. Which means, most of the ingredients in these products have never been safety tested…especially on pregnant women or unborn babies.
Pregnancy-specific skin care toxins to watch out for include:
- Phthalates (typically found in fragranced products)
- Retinol/Vitamin A
- Salicylic acid
- Synthetic sunscreen
We cover each of these ingredients in detail in: Pregnancy Safe Skin Care
The solution is to switch to 100% natural, fragrance free non-toxic personal care products during pregnancy, and beyond. We share some of our favorites in: Our Favorite Fragrance-Free Personal Care Products.
And don’t forget to ask for non-toxic baby care products too! We list our favorites for baby in the Non-Toxic Personal Care article linked above.
We hope this information has inspired and empowered you to go beyond the basics in protecting you and your baby from harmful chemicals.
Yes, it takes some time, intention, and effort. But… that’s parenting, isn’t it? And it will be so worth it to give your little miracle the very strongest start in life.
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.