The bad news is that chemicals are everywhere- in our food, cosmetics, cleaning products, and personal care products, to name a few. The good news is that with just a bit of knowledge, we can drastically reduce our exposure to these nasty compounds, especially those that are most harmful to a developing baby.
When it comes to avoiding hazardous chemicals, women must be especially cautious. Generally speaking, women use more personal care products and do more housework (read: exposure) than men. Even for those of us who are vigilant about the products we absorb and inhale, women end to have a higher percentage of body fat than do men. Body fat is relevant because many toxins end up stored in our fat cells.
Additionally, women have a humbling and obvious biological imperative to avoid chemical exposure: it is inside a woman’s body that a life is created and sustained. Subsequently, breast-feeding is also a route of exposure for growing babies, meaning that the need to avoid toxic chemicals does not end with delivery.
Below is a list of three of the top chemicals to avoid while pregnant or trying to conceive.
Commonly found in the list of ingredients in cleaning products and personal care products, “fragrance” can be a combination of hundreds of potential chemicals. Companies consider the scent of their products to be proprietary and therefore, are not about to provide a list of the chemical cocktail used to create a certain smell. While we would love to believe that these fragrances are harmless, that is often not the case.
The International Fragrance Association has published a list of chemicals found in fragrances, many of which are known to cause health problems. For example, phalates are associated with endocrine disruption and may pose a significant threat to developing male fetuses.
What to do? Take an extra moment to look at the list of ingredients on the product you are considering. Leave it on the shelf if it contains “fragrance”. Plant-based cleaners and personal care products have become more ubiquitous and are often easy to find. These products may be scented, but are made so using essential oils and other plant extracts. To save both time and money, why not try some DIY household cleaners!
Commonly known as BPA, this chemical is an estrogen-mimic and known endocrine disruptor. BPA is not the same chemical as estrogen, however the structure of the compound is so close to that of the hormone that BPA readily binds to our estrogen receptors.
Once binding occurs, a cascade of events is triggered and hormone levels are altered. At a time when hormonal problems such as infertility are ubiquitous, exposure to endocrine disruptors is a growing concern.
What to do? BPA is found in most plastics, including hidden sources such as the linings of tin cans, and can be challenging to avoid. The “BPA-free” plastics may make us feel better about using that water bottle, but please know that there is now evidence that the replacement for BPA, a similar compound called Bisphenol-S, is likely just as detrimental to our endocrine system. As such, the best thing to do is avoid plastic whenever possible.
Drink from a stainless steel water bottle, stay away from canned foods, and use glass containers for transporting your lunches to work. BPA is also used in the thermal paper that receipts are printed on, so if you really need them, keep them in a special envelope and not lose in your pockets or purse.
Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent and has been the subject of growing concern. It is commonly found in antibacterial hand soaps, cleaning products, and hand sanitizers. It is also used in hair products, cosmetics, toothpastes, and mouth washes! Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor that has been implicated in uterine abnormalities such as changes in cell morphology and increase in uterine weight, as well as the suppression of thyroid hormone levels.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that triclosan is found in the bodies of 75% of Americans. It has been found in human blood, urine, breast milk, and cord blood, indicating that women must be cognocent of their exposure as well as that of their developing fetuses and newborns.
What to do? Triclosan may pose a problem when it comes to your personal hygiene routine. However, with a few extra minutes of reading labels, it is possible to significantly reduce exposure. Due to the fact that Triclosan is a pesticide, manufacturers are required to list this chemical under product ingredients. Check the labels on all your body care products and do yourself a favor by replacing triclosan-containing products with plant-based substitutes. You will be doing your body (and baby) a huge favor.
Once you have tackled your home care products, consider other sources of triclosan exposure. Any time you use the soap in a public restroom, you can be almost certain it will contain triclosan. Carry a small travel sized bottle of you own soap for these occasions and remember that this relatively minor inconvenience is well worth the benefits!
Remember, anything you can do to avoid chemicals during preconception, pregnancy, and nursing will be of great benefit to you and your baby. It is nearly impossible to live in a way where an extent of chemical exposure is not a fact of life, so please don’t get too bogged down or overwhelmed.
We have the power to make hundreds of choices about what we eat and the household, hygiene, and beauty products we use. Start “detoxing” your routine today and you will be there in no time!