Environment

When planning for pregnancy we need to become aware of the toxins we put into our bodies (food and drink; air pollution) as well as on our skin (products, sunscreen). Often, protecting ourselves can seem overwhelming and beyond our control. Government agencies, including the EPA, are underfunded, and companies are left to self-regulate.  its easy to throw up their hands and say, “The problem is everywhere; there’s nothing I can do,” and give up. The hopeful news is that, a tremendous amount of information and resources exist that allow us to make wise environmental choices. These options protect our health, our hormones, and our unborn children.

There are several reasons to pay attention to environmental chemicals when you are planning a pregnancy. The first is that many environmental toxins are endocrine disruptors. This means that they can interfere with the production, release, transport, metabolism, binding, action, or elimination of hormones in the body. Specifically, they can alter levels and actions of estrogen, androgen, and thyroid—the most essential hormones for becoming pregnant as well as steering the development of the fetus in the womb.

Another reason is that exposing a fetus to these chemicals in your womb can have much longer-term effects on your child’s health. Your child may suffer from learning disabilities, hypospadias, undescended testicles, and childhood cancers; later, in adulthood, these early-life exposures can increase the risk for diabetes; heart disease; and breast, vaginal, testicular, and other cancers. Pioneers in the new field of health care research called fetal origins contend that the nine months of pregnancy may permanently influence the wiring of the brain and shape our susceptibility to a wide range of diseases.

Several studies have shown that babies are born already exposed to chemicals while in their mother’s wombs. One of the most recent was conducted by the Environmental Working Group and Rachel’s Network. They tested ten babies in five different states between December 2007 and June 2008 and found an average of 232 different chemicals in the babies’ umbilical blood. This means that before your baby has taken a single breath of air, he or she has likely been exposed to extensive environmental toxins—so it is worth considering what you can do to reduce this exposure.

I share this research not to scare you but to raise your awareness so that you can change your habits if necessary. Toxic chemicals are found in products we use every day. As individuals, we can make choices that create a safer home and work environment and that reduce exposure to these chemicals.

Because the idea of trying to eliminate toxins from our environments can seem overwhelming, I advise you to focus on the things that you do daily or often. For example, you probably spend eight hours or more asleep in your bedroom, so that space deserves your attention. You may also spend eight hours a day in your office, so what you’re exposed to there is worth considering.

Pay more attention to the things that you do frequently, and over which you have control. If you focus here, you won’t feel constantly fearful about every single thing lurking in the environment.

To reduce potentially harmful chemicals, consider doing a self assessment before you conceive or once you are pregnant:​

1. Do you know which vegetables and fruits have the most pesticide contamination?

2. Do you avoid fish that contain high levels of mercury and PCBs?

3. Do you check the ingredients in your cosmetics, lotions, and shampoos for endocrine disruptors?

4. Do you use green cleaning products?

5. If you are planning to paint are you using no- or low-VOC paint?

6. Do you use perfumes, scented candles, and/or air fresheners?

7. Do you spray your house for bugs or have your lawn sprayed?

8. Are you exposed to lead, X-rays, solvents, or chemotherapeutic agents at work?

To check the environmental safety of the products you use everyday: www.ewg.org/skindeep

Avoid BPA in food packaging

Bisphenol A, or BPA, shows up widely as it is used to make food can linings,  polycarbonate plastic, thermal receipt paper and many other everyday items. Scientific evidence on the negative health effects associated with BPA exposure keeps growing and includes: increased risk for breast cancer, prostate cancer, metabolic changes, decreased fertility, early puberty, neurological problems and immunological changes.  For a comprehensive review, see the 2013 Breast Cancer Fund publication Disrupted Development.

Need another reason to avoid BPA? In October 2013 a small study revealed that BPA increased the risk of miscarriage.

The Environmental Working Group has just released a “dirty dozen” list for environmental chemicals that can interfere with fertility.  You can find it here:

Pay attention to electromagnetic field exposures.  Here are some things you can do:

  1. Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body (e.g. in a pocket or bra).
  2. Avoid holding any wireless device against your body when in use.
  3. Use your cell phone on speaker setting or with an “air tube” headset.
  4. Avoid using your wireless device in cars, trains or elevators.
  5. Avoid cordless phones, especially where you sleep.
  6. Whenever possible, connect to the internet with wired cables.
  7. When using Wi-Fi, connect only to download, then disconnect.
  8. Avoid prolonged or direct exposure to Wi-Fi routers.
  9. Unplug your home Wi-Fi router when not in use (e.g. at bedtime).
  10. Sleep as far away from wireless utility meters (i.e. “smart” meters) as possible

Endometriosis linked to environmental chemicals:

In multiple studies, environmental chemicals have been shown to be linked to endometriosis. Dioxins and PCBs are common cuplrits.  A Nov 2013 article in Environmental Health Perspectives shows a link to miren and beta HCH.