Americans spend nearly 90 percent of their time indoors, and the air inside your home can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Even more than the air we breathe, the water we drink can carry chemicals or metals that can harm us. In one study, tap water for 15 million Americans was contaminated with PFCs (perfluorochemicals from non-stick cookware), which are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, and a weakened immune system.
Children are more vulnerable to harmful chemicals than adults. But a developing baby in the womb is more sensitive than anyone else— to even tiny amounts of chemical contaminants.
You can boost your baby’s brain power, immune function, and reproductive health by getting harmful chemicals out of your food, water, and air in early pregnancy. Prenatal care isn’t limited to avoiding alcohol, quitting cigarettes, and taking pregnancy vitamins. Your growing baby is exposed to every single thing you come into contact with. By following the tips below you can purify your air and water and give your baby the best possible start to a long and health life. And remember, these tips pay off long after your little one is born, too!
In the first blog of this series, “Things to Avoid When Pregnant: How to Make a Non-Toxic Baby in a Toxic World” you learned practical tips for getting toxins out of your food and cookware. Since food comes into the body all day, every day, you can dramatically cut harmful chemicals out of your life by eating organic, choosing non-toxic pots and pans, and staying away from plastic dishes, plastic bottles, and plastic Tupperware. But it doesn’t stop with food. You and your baby need clean water and air, too! If you can avoid harmful chemicals in your food, water, and air when you’re pregnant, then you are making a huge impact on your baby’s future health and lifespan.
Prevent these conditions in your child by cleaning up your air and water quality:1,2
Water purity. American tap water can be contaminated with microbial pathogens, chemicals, metals, or radionuclides. These can cause gastrointestinal illness, cancer, developmental or reproductive effects, brain dysfunction, and organ damage. Arsenic, nitrites, nitrates, and chlorine by-products are high in our water and can cause a host of problems. While the United States has safe water compared to less developed countries, we still have a long way to go.
Tip #1. Go ahead and install a water filter on your kitchen sink. Aquasauna has very good water filters for reasonable prices. They have models that go on top of, and below, the counter. Aquasauna’s water filter will reduce the mercury, lead, plastics, medications, and hormones from your water by over 95%. You will want clean water during pregnancy and also when you have little ones. Just imagine making a bottle for your baby with tap water. Yikes!
Tip #2. Consider a water filtration system. Drinking water isn’t the only concern. You and your family also get exposed to contaminants in water when showering. You can put water filters on the showerheads and/or you can get a whole home water filter.
Air purity. Air pollution is recognized as a major cause of disease and death all around the globe.3 And it is one of the biggest sources of toxins in your home. It’s hard to believe but, your furniture, carpet, flooring, and paint emits toxic fumes into your air. Not to mention other potential allergens like pet dander, mold, dust, and more. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are high in gasoline, paint, dry cleaning, cleansers, hair spray, and more. These can cause asthma and respiratory disease in your unborn baby.4 And they can cause problems with your baby’s immune system.5
Tip #3. Change your HVAC air filter regularly. It’s recommended to change it every 6 weeks.
Tip #4. Fresh air exchange. Open the doors and windows in your home at least two times a week so that stale toxic air can leave the house and fresh outdoor air can come in. Arrange a natural wind tunnel in your house by opening up one door on one side of the home and another door on the other side of the house (preferably across from each other). This sets up an air exchange that is very effective. This is a great idea if the slightest smell makes your stomach lurch (thank you, morning sickness). Keeping healthy, fresh, high quality air in your home will help quell your uneasy stomach. If you are worried about introducing pollen into your home in the spring, open the doors during a rain, or just after a rain, when pollen counts are lower.
Tip #5. No Glade plug-ins or other air fresheners are needed in your home, as these contain phthalates and volatile solvents. Remember, phthalates are plastics that can cause reproductive defects or hormone disturbance in babies.6,7
Tip #6. If you get new baby items, unpack them and let them air out on the porch, in the garage, or in a storage building. Do not release toxic fumes from new baby items into your home!! You and the baby need to breathe fresh air, not harmful chemicals.
Tip #7. Can Pregnant Women Paint? No Ma’am.
Yes, you’re pregnant, and you’re ready to nest, but this is not the time to paint, put in new carpets, or remodel! Schedule a trip out of town and pay someone else to paint, if necessary. The very best thing for you and baby is to decorate your home without paint or remodeling. If you insist on doing a home project during your pregnancy, wait till you’re later in the pregnancy. Use low-volatile (low VOC) paint from the hardware store, such as Home Depot. Keep all windows and doors open as much as possible to allow toxic fumes to escape the home. You can place box fans in doors or windows to suck air out of the house. Barricade areas of the house that are under construction and block off air flow to the rest of the house. Continue airing out the home, long after the paint is dry. Many chemicals don’t have a smell, so you can’t always rely on your nose to tell you when things are safe.
Tip #8. Choose flooring that has a green stamp of approval and little to no off-gassing. You should not be remodeling your home or moving into a newly renovated home when pregnant. But in case you are doing it anyway, hardwood floors or ceramic tiles are the best. Beware of affordable flooring materials, especially composite wood floors. They contain toxic glues and formaldehyde. New carpet emits toxins and glues. Carpet is also a “sink” for allergens such as pet dander, dust mites, and mold. When these are inhaled, it can harm you and the baby.
Tip #9. Buy an air filter. After cutting down on sources of indoor air pollution and making sure to get plenty of fresh air into your house, you may want to do something more to boost your home’s indoor air quality. You can buy an air purifier to work around the clock to clean the air in your home. House plants are natural air purifiers. So, you can boost your indoor air quality by having beautiful plants all around.
These are high-quality, doctor-approved air purifiers:
Tip #10. Stay Positive!
For someone who is just learning about toxic exposures and indoor air pollution, this is a big overhaul! Take little steps. Do the best you can, but don’t beat yourself up if it’s not perfect. Installing a water filter, shopping organic, and cooking with healthy pots and pans is still an amazing start! Once the baby is here, you won’t be able to worry about most of these things, so it helps to put them in place now for the health of you and your family.
The assignment gave me renewed motivation to clean up my food, air, and water so my daughter could have the best health possible. I know there are other momma bears out there who feel the same way. This blog is intended to help mothers get in the driver’s seat and protect their babies from the harmful chemicals that surround us.
This blog is dedicated to Dr. Walter Crinnion, ND, a great mind and teacher of environmental medicine who passed away March 11, 2019.
- Schoeters GE, Den Hond E, Koppen G, et al. Biomonitoring and biomarkers to unravel the risks from prenatal environmental exposures for later health outcomes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94(6 Suppl):1964s-1969s.
- Wigle DT, Arbuckle TE, Turner MC, et al. Epidemiologic evidence of relationships between reproductive and child health outcomes and environmental chemical contaminants. Journal of toxicology and environmental health Part B, Critical reviews. 2008;11(5-6):373-517.
- Oliveira M, Slezakova K, Delerue-Matos C, Pereira MC, Morais S. Children environmental exposure to particulate matter and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and biomonitoring in school environments: A review on indoor and outdoor exposure levels, major sources and health impacts. Environment international. 2019;124:180-204.
- Casset A, de Blay F. [Health effects of domestic volatile organic compounds]. Revue des maladies respiratoires. 2008;25(4):475-485.
- Lehmann I, Thoelke A, Rehwagen M, et al. The influence of maternal exposure to volatile organic compounds on the cytokine secretion profile of neonatal T cells. Environmental toxicology. 2002;17(3):203-210.
- Huang PC, Kuo PL, Chou YY, Lin SJ, Lee CC. Association between prenatal exposure to phthalates and the health of newborns. Environment international. 2009;35(1):14-20.
- Lottrup G, Andersson AM, Leffers H, et al. Possible impact of phthalates on infant reproductive health. International journal of andrology. 2006;29(1):172-180; discussion 181-175.
Do you have more tips and tricks for avoiding harmful chemicals during pregnancy? Please share your tips in the comment fields below.
Cass Nelson-Dooley, MS, is a researcher, author, educator, and laboratory consultant. She studied medicinal plants in the rain forests of Panama as a Fulbright Scholar and then launched a career in science and natural medicine. Early on, she studied ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, and drug discovery at the University of Georgia and AptoTec, Inc. She joined innovators at Metametrix Clinical Laboratory as a medical education consultant helping clinicians use integrative and functional laboratory results in clinical practice. She owns Health First Consulting, LLC, a medical communications company with the mission to improve human health using the written word. Ms. Nelson-Dooley is an oral microbiome expert and author of Heal Your Oral Microbiome. She was a contributing author in Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine and Case Studies in Integrative and Functional Medicine. She has published case studies, book chapters, and journal articles about the oral microbiome, natural medicine, nutrition, laboratory testing, obesity, and osteoporosis.