Are you ready for a fresh start in the new year? Or do you want a fresh start because there is a baby on the way? You can freshen up your home by kicking these toxic chemicals to the curb and prepare for your new baby in the healthiest way possible.
There are many things you can do to reduce your baby’s exposure to chemicals. In the first and second parts of this series, we focused on food, water, and air. Those pack a big punch. You can make a huge impact on your baby’s health by focusing just on those three areas.
But it doesn’t stop there. There are things that you need to avoid when pregnant: chemicals in your beauty and hair care products, furniture, baby shower gifts, flame retardants in your mattress, and chemicals at work. I will also tell you about some tests that will tell you if your home is safe and clean.
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.
Experts in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology said that environmental chemicals are harming mothers, babies, and children. They urged doctors to help women identify and avoid toxins so that they could have healthier babies and children.1
Sure, you want to nest, but pregnancy is not the time to do home renovations or painting! This blog will help you figure out what to avoid when you’re pregnant- such as the harmful chemicals lurking in your home. Instead, you can find healthier, non-toxic products that are good for you and your baby.
The major reasons you want to reduce your baby’s exposure to common household toxins:2,3
Follow these steps to get your home free and clear of dangerous chemicals.
Out with the old toxic stuff, and in with the new chemical-free stuff.
Step #1. Test yourself and your home. I urged my conventional OB/GYN nurse to order a heavy metals blood test on me at my first prenatal visit. I asked her to measure lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. She was a bit surprised at this request. She hadn’t ever thought of it. She wasn’t sure how to do it.
Why was she surprised, I wonder? Measuring mother’s blood lead levels has been recommended as part of routine prenatal care for decades.4-6 Has your OB/GYN measured your blood lead level? Blood levels tell you if you have lead exposure or lead poisoning. If you have lead in your blood, then your unborn baby does, too. There is no safe level of lead. Even very low levels affect your baby’s IQ, ability to concentrate, and do well in school. A blood heavy metals test is a nice check to see if you (and your home) is low in toxic metals.
You can also order a blood test for volatile solvents or a urine test for phthalates or BPA. You can ask your doctor to order a test to find out if you have high pesticides in your body (also here). And you can order an air quality test for your home. Testing is a nice way to tell if your efforts to clean up your home are doing the trick.
Step #2. Choose non-toxic makeup and body care products. The best thing is to stop wearing makeup and flaunt your natural beauty. If that’s not an option, you can use non-toxic, all-natural makeup, moisturizers, shampoo, conditioner, perfumes, and lip balms. Lipstick is a source of lead and other metals. Avoid parabens and phthalates and any other chemicals that you can’t pronounce. Phthalates are plastics that can cause reproductive defects or hormone disturbance in babies.7,8 Parabens are artificial preservatives that disrupt hormone balance and harm fertility. Most Americans (92%) have parabens in their bodies.
InStyle published the best non-toxic makeup items for the year. Origins is a non-toxic makeup line formulated by Dr. Andrew Weil, a leader in integrative medicine. Their products are free of parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, formaldehyde, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) mineral oil, petrolatum, paraffin, diethanolamine (DEA), polyethylene beads and animal ingredients. Whole Foods has body care and beauty products that are free of 100 ingredients thought to be harmful to humans and/or the environment.
I use Dr. Bronner’s hemp baby soap for hands and body soap. I like hypoallergenic and non-toxic olive oil soap for handwashing, such as Papoutsanis from Greece or AnatoliaDaphne. CeraVe baby moisturizing lotion, EpiCeram skin barrier emulsion, and CeraVe baby healing ointment skin protectant are good non-toxic options if you want skin protection and hydration. Your baby can use these, too.
Step #3. Clean up with non-toxic products. Use Seventh Generation Free and Clear cleaning supplies and laundry detergent. If you love fragrances, use products scented with essential oils. Many scented products contain potentially toxic chemicals, such as phthalates. You can use Dr. Bronner’s hemp baby soap (or another scent) for washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms. Murphy Oil Soap is a good non-toxic option for cleaning floors or counters. Handwash delicate baby items or gently-used baby gear with a solution of vinegar and water, or soap and water, and leave them for hours in the sunshine. If you want to sterilize items, make a solution of 6 parts alcohol and 4 parts water, and spray it all over the item. You don’t need strong chemicals to get things nice and clean for your bundle of joy. Having these things in place will also help protect your new baby from skin irritation.
And if despite these warnings, you still want to use your old toxic cleaning solutions, always, always ventilate. Turn on the fan and open two windows on either side of the house to create a wind current. Let it continue to air out for at least an hour after you’re finished cleaning or until you can’t smell any more cleaning solution.
Step #4. Hold on your hair color, but sport a new hair-do. Instead of getting your hair colored, get a haircut to give your hair a fresh look. I let my grey streak grow out. My research on hair color was not definitive about exposure to the baby. I would concede that some moms could do hair color and everything will probably be fine. You could wait until later in the pregnancy, well after first trimester, to minimize risks to the baby. I chose not to take any risks and it was fun to let my grey streak take front line and center. For certain women with dark hair, henna hair color may be an option and Indian salons may be able to provide it. Since my hair is brown and my skin is fair, the salon owner didn’t think henna, which can have an orange tint, was right for me. Women with blonde hair could use natural versions of Sun-In.
Step #5. Choose zero chemical flooring. Hardwood floors or ceramic tiles are the best. Beware of affordable flooring materials, especially composite wood floors like laminate. They contain toxic glues and formaldehyde. New carpet emits toxins and glues. When these are inhaled, it can harm you and the baby. We talked about volatile organic compounds and indoor air pollution in the second part of this blog series (“10 Tips to Purify Your Air and Water During Pregnancy.”)
Step #6. Buy used, solid wood furniture. If you want to buy a bunch of new things for your baby, think again. New items are loaded with paints, dyes, fumes, glues, and more. One of the best things you can do for your home environment is buy used furniture items for your baby. After 6 months to a year, much of the gases have evaporated, and you have a healthier item to store in your home. Solid wood baby furniture is the best. Stainless steel is good. When you get brand new baby items as gifts (and you will), open them up and put them outside in a shed or some detached covered structure so that they can air out. This doesn’t work if you have an attached garage because the fumes can still get into your home. If you buy a bunch of new baby furniture right before you are going to deliver (not recommended), then make sure to air out your home every day (see Tip #4 Fresh Air Exchange in, “10 Tips to Purify Your Air and Water During Pregnancy.”)
Step #7. Eliminate your work exposures. Are you exposed to paint fumes, dust, chemicals, gasoline fumes, or cleaning chemicals as part of your job? Do you work in agriculture with pesticides or herbicides? Do you work in manufacturing, dry cleaning, or printing with solvents? If you work in the health care field, you can get exposed to microbes, radiation, or medications.9 If you’re pregnant, this is the time to evaluate the safety of your job for your baby. Maybe you can change your duties, or move your office, or at least go outside to get fresh air often. You can wash your hands often and immediately upon returning home, strip down all of your clothing and shower.
Step #8. Invest in non-toxic mattresses and furniture. Mattresses are chock-full of flame retardants, which can cause cancer, damage the brain, lower hormone levels, and harm the immune system. Not something we want for unborn babies. Polyurethane foam, used to stuff mattresses and furniture, is highly flammable so they add flame retardant chemicals to it. The problem is that flame retardants are released into the air, essentially becoming toxic gases in your home. They can also absorb directly into your skin when you touch fluffy mattresses and furniture. Due to the laws in California, every mattress manufacturer drenches mattresses with flame retardants. And that doesn’t stop with mattresses. They also do this to furniture, pillows, children’s car seats, and curtains. One study found that 80% of baby products contained flame retardants. Holy moly!!!
Imagine how much chemicals you would need to infuse into something flammable, so that it can’t catch fire when you hold an open flame to it. While the image of a mattress on fire with someone in it is worse than a horror movie, does everyone in the country really need to be breathing tons of chemicals 8 hours every night to prevent such a thing? Use smoke detectors throughout the house, find a mattress that isn’t soaked in fire retardant chemicals, and breathe clean air all night long, is what I say.
Natural latex (natural rubber), organic wool, and organic cotton are the best mattress materials. No harmful chemicals to breathe in. Latex and wool are naturally fire resistant. These days there are a lot of organic and all natural mattresses for sale: Avocado Green Mattress, Sleep On Latex, and STL Beds. Natural latex mattresses can last 20 years, so the investment pays off. They are naturally mold, mildew, and dust mite resistant. I have a 6” latex mattress and I love it. You might need a doctor’s prescription to buy a mattress free of flame retardants.
This applies to your baby’s crib mattress, too. Babies may spend up to 50% of their early lives sleeping on their crib mattress. Choose an organic mattress made in the United States to protect your baby from inhaling harmful chemicals while sleeping. You can find out how to buy your baby’s car seat free of flame retardants here and learn why flame retardants shouldn’t even be in car seats here. Sadly, Graco is one of the worst.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
No one can do all of this at once. It’s a gradual metamorphosis. Give yourself kudos when you take a step toward a non-toxic home. Don’t beat yourself up (or make yourself crazy) over what you haven’t been able to do yet. I spent many years learning about the toxins in our environment because of my work. I had already taken many of these steps, even before I was pregnant. For example, I needed a new mattress six years before I got pregnant, so I splurged on a non-toxic, latex mattress. It helps to spread out the financial burden of de-polluting your home over time, instead of trying to do it all in a few months.
It’s All About Timing
First trimester is the most important time to make sure your new baby isn’t getting exposed to harmful chemicals. You can capitalize on your excitement about being pregnant by taking these measures to give your baby the healthiest future possible. But don’t worry if you are in the middle of pregnancy or even if you already have a toddler running around. It is never too late to cut down on the amount of harmful chemicals you and your family are exposed to! A little goes a long way. Stay positive and keep your eye on the prize: a non-toxic home!
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.
- McDiarmid MA, Gardiner PM, Jack BW. The clinical content of preconception care: environmental exposures. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008;199(6 Suppl 2):S357-361.
- 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.
- Rastogi S, Nandlike K, Fenster W. Elevated blood lead levels in pregnant women: identification of a high-risk population and interventions. Journal of perinatal medicine. 2007;35(6):492-496.
- Greene A, Morello-Frosch R, Shenassa ED. Inadequate prenatal care and elevated blood lead levels among children born in Providence, Rhode Island: a population-based study. Public Health Rep. 2006;121(6):729-736.
- Al-Saleh I, Shinwari N, Nester M, et al. Longitudinal study of prenatal and postnatal lead exposure and early cognitive development in Al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia: a preliminary results of cord blood lead levels. Journal of tropical pediatrics. 2008;54(5):300-307.
- 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.
- McDiarmid MA, Gehle K. Preconception brief: occupational/environmental exposures. Maternal and child health journal. 2006;10(5 Suppl):S123-128.
This blog is dedicated to Dr. Walter Crinnion, ND, a great mind and teacher of environmental medicine who passed away March 11, 2019.
If you have tips and tricks for avoiding common household chemicals, please comment 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.