Practical Actions for a Healthier Pregnancy

Recent articles have raised concerns about whether taking antidepressants may increase the risk of having a baby with autism. While frightening, these reports help raise awareness of the value of a careful self-assessment before you become pregnant. I recommend that you ask yourself these 10 questions before attempting to conceive:

1. Do you take prescribed medications? Find out if your medicine is safe during pregnancy by talking to your physician or pharmacist or look it up on this NIH website

2. Are you taking a prenatal multivitamin multi-mineral with folic acid, iron, and iodine? These multis are associated with easier conception, fewer miscarriages, fewer birth defects in your baby, and a reduced risk of autism in your child. And, because multis can contain vastly different ingredients check yours against this recommended list.

3. Are your immunizations up to date? Some contagious illnesses are particularly dangerous to a developing fetus and not all immunizations can be given to pregnant women. Be sure you have a conversation about vaccines with your health care provider.

4. Might you have thyroid disease, vitamin D deficiency, or celiac disease? All three can interfere with fertility. Blood tests can detect them, but sometimes a trial off gluten is indicated even when celiac lab work tests negative.

5. How often do you eat fish or sushi? While fish is the best source of omega 3 fatty acids, and critical to both your baby’s developing and preventing post-partum depression, please be sure to avoid those with the highest levels of mercury and PCBs (shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel) and limit albacore tuna to six ounces per week.

6. How many sodas or sugar-sweetened beverages do you drink a week? Not only can sugar interfere with your fertility, the BPA (bisphenol A) in the can linings is an endocrine disruptor. And if you have preferred diet sodas, new evidence suggests that your body may react to the artificial sweeteners in unexpected ways. A 2014 study in the journal Nature revealed that diet sodas can alter blood glucose levels which makes it harder to conceive.

7. Do you use iodized salt? Lots of people prefer sea salt or avoid salt altogether. Yet, salt is our best source of iodine, which is important for thyroid function. Better to buy iodized as your “go to” salt.

8. Are you paying attention to your personal care products? The average woman uses twelve a day. Skin Deep, the Good Guide, and Think Dirty have websites and free apps with bar code scanners that make it easy to choose the safest shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, and other personal products.

9. Do you pay attention to the pesticides in your vegetables and fruits? The Environmental Working Group posts the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen each year to help you select those with the lowest levels of contamination.  Animal products should also be organic as animals eat plants and bioaccumulate pesticides.

10. Do you think before you spray (the lawn, the perimeter of your house for insects, air freshener, and even perfume)? Insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and artificial fragrance all contain chemicals that can interfere with normal hormonal functions. Essential oils are the best choice.

More self-assessment strategies to prepare for a healthy pregnancy are here.

**A version of this article was posted on October 8 on Women’s Voices for the Earth