As I walked back into my office yesterday after lunch, I was overwhelmed by the most horrible smell. It smelled like some chemical bomb had gone off in the building. As it turns out, there is a new nail salon going in downstairs, and they were redoing the floors. Sadly for the rest of us, we were swimming in chemicals and toxins, to the point where our eyes were burning, we were nauseous, and a couple of ladies actually got sick in the ladies room. I am not pregnant, but I am mid-IVF cycle, and the last thing I want to expose all these little growing Nemo-like eggs to is such profoundly toxic chemicals. I hightailed it out of there! It did get me thinking about toxic exposure in preconception and pregnancy, and just how important minimizing toxic exposures are, and I remembered a good resource for toxicity and pregnancy information that I wanted to make sure you knew about.
The group is called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) – www.ewg.org. It is a non-profit environmental advocacy group. They do research into various aspects of toxicity in the environment and in certain products, and give good suggestions for how to minimize risk to yourself, and in this case, to a future baby.
One EWG study found an average of 232 chemicals in the cord blood of 10 babies born during one year. They were chemicals found in common household products — shampoos and conditioners, cosmetics, plastics, shower curtains, mattresses, electronics like computers and cell phones, among others. They also have studied the effects of lead and other toxic metals on fetal development.
The EWG also reported a study by scientists at the University of Rochester, which reported that prenatal exposure to phthalates —plasticizers commonly used in personal care products — were linked to abnormal reproductive development in baby boys. Despite these findings phthalates are still used in cosmetic products, including some nail polishes and “fragrance” mixtures. Another group of troublesome ingredients often found in personal care products from moisturizers to toothpaste are parabens. Studies indicate they can mimic the hormone estrogen and interfere with the normal function of the hormonal system.
Gladly, the EWG is also very solution-driven, and their website contains a ton of great information on what chemicals and toxins to watch out for, and practical ways to avoid them. The following is taken from their website as a list of ways to have a non-toxic pregnancy (link to their page here):
- Don’t smoke Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals that have been proven to cause harm, including raising the risk of low birth weight and size, reduced lung capacity and impaired brain function. Babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are at higher risk of asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), learning disabilities, diminished IQ and behavioral problems.
- Get your iodine Use iodized salt, especially while pregnant and nursing, and take iodine-containing vitamins. Iodine buffers against chemicals such as perchlorate that can disrupt your thyroid system and affect your baby’s brain development during pregnancy and infancy.
- Eat good fats Omega-3 fatty acids can offset the toxic effects of lead and mercury. Omega-3’s are plentiful in fish, eggs, nuts, oils and produce. Choose low-mercury fish such as salmon, tilapia and pollock, rather than high-mercury tuna and swordfish. Breast milk is the best source of good fats (and other benefits) for babies and protects them from toxic chemicals.
- Go organic and eat fresh foods Opt for organic fruits and veggies, or use FoodNews.org to find conventionally grown produce with the least pesticide residue. Choose milk and meat produced without added growth hormones. Limit canned food, since can linings usually contain bisphenol-A (BPA).
- Drink safer water It’s important for pregnant women to drink plenty of water. Use a reverse osmosis system or carbon filter pitcher to reduce your exposure to impurities such as chlorine, perchlorate and lead. Don’t drink bottled water, which costs more and isn’t necessarily better. If you’re out and about, use a stainless steel, glass or BPA-free plastic reusable container. Mix infant formula with fluoride-free water.
- Choose better body care products Just because the label says “gentle” or “natural” doesn’t mean a product is kid-safe. Look it up on CosmeticsDatabase.com. Read the ingredients and avoid triclosan, BHA, fragrance and oxybenzone.
- Identify lead sources & avoid them Have your tap water tested for lead from pipes and avoid any home remodeling if your house was built before 1978, when lead house paint was banned. Dust from sanding or blasting old paint is a common source of exposure.
- Clean greener Household cleaners, bug killers, pet treatments and air fresheners can irritate kids’ and babies’ lungs – especially if they have asthma. Check out less toxic alternatives. Some ideas: vinegar in place of bleach, baking soda to scrub your tiles, hydrogen peroxide to remove stains. Use a wet mop/rag and a HEPA-filter vacuum to get rid of dust – which can contain contaminants. Leave shoes – and the pollutants they track inside — at the door.
- Pick plastics carefully Some plastics contain toxic chemicals, including BPA, PVC and phthalates. Don’t reuse single-use containers or microwave food in plastic containers. Avoid PVC by hanging a natural-fabric shower curtain. When remodeling, go with PVC-free flooring and pipes.
- Think ahead to baby. Your due date will be here before you know it! Breast milk is best, but if you use formula, choose a powdered product and mix it with filtered water (without fluoride). Choose glass or BPA-free plastic baby bottles. Use organic baby food and milk when the time comes. Avoid fire retardants in nursing pillows, furniture, and electronics. Choose fewer and safer body care products, including diaper cream, wipes and soap. When you outfit the nursery, choose an organic crib mattress or use a wool cover.
I find the EWG site really useful – now I use it as a resource for determining the safety of some of the products I use. For example, their list of commonly-used sunscreens and which ones are rated the best in terms of safety and toxicity has been really eye-opening and helpful.
I believe there is not enough government regulation around toxic ingredients and products, so it’s up to us as consumers to be aware, educated and empowered. The EWG is a really valuable resource for finding this important information.