We get a lot of questions from women about what they can do to prepare for pregnancy healthwise.
Should they do a detox cleanse? Change their diets? Start exercising more?
And the answers are: yes, yes, and yes…but, often we fail to think about one of the most critical components of preparing for pregnancy: detoxifying our homes.
We’re talking about taking a look at what you use to clean your home, what you put on your skin, and even what you store your food in.
Why does this matter? Because all too often it is the seemingly harmless items and products we use day after day that wind up silently polluting our bodies and undermining our health. What’s more, in utero exposure to chemicals is linked to neurodevelopmental issues in children and other health risks.1
And this isn’t talked about enough, so we’re ready to share what we’ve learned after helping hundreds of women get pregnant in our practices.
In a 2013 committee option, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated:
“Prenatal exposure to environmental chemicals is linked to various adverse health consequences, and patient exposure at any point in time can lead to harmful reproductive health outcomes.” 2
Let’s begin with our five ways to detox your home before getting pregnant.
1: Create a Healing Sleep Sanctuary
Getting enough sleep is paramount to a healthy conception, pregnancy, and even postpartum recovery (though that part gets tricky when you have a baby waking you up several times a night).
Sleep is when your body repairs and restores itself and is critical to attaining and maintaining hormonal balance. For soon-to-be-mamis getting 8-9 hours of sleep per night must be a top priority.
Unfortunately, traditional mattresses, sheets, and even pillows are made with synthetic fabrics, toxic foams, and even poisons like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs), polyurethane foam, decabromodiphenyl oxideantimony, insecticides like boric acid, synthetic pesticides, formaldehyde, and other chemical additives which disrupt your body’s rest and repair cycle.3
Scary huh? The good news is, you can easily avoid all these freakish toxins by investing in an organic mattress, pillows, and bedding (and no, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune).
One of our favorite choices is the IntelliBED mattress. Although not technically organic, it is non-toxic and uses a hospital grade gel mesh on top that makes it exceptionally supportive. For kids’ rooms we like a more economical option from My Green Mattress. We also recommend using a organic 100% cotton zippered mattress encasement to protect your investment and reduce allergens from dust mites. We’ve also heard good things about Avocado Green, both in terms of quality and price point.
For more information on choosing a mattress, reference the EWG’s Guide to Healthiest Mattresses.
You can find a variety of options for organic sheets but our favorite affordable bedding is the Threshold Organic Cotton Sheet Set from Target. And, side note, organic sheets really do matter because conventional sheets are often treated with chemicals to prevent wrinkles, which contain formaldehyde.4
So, if you can’t buy organic sheets, at least aim for sheets that aren’t wrinkle-free or wrinkle resistant.
2: Clean up your cleaning caddy
Many conventional cleaning products expose you and your family to hazardous chemicals which are known human carcinogens and endocrine disruptors—things like phthalates, benzene, and boric acid.
And the worst part? There are hardly any federal regulations in place with regards to labeling and safety testing for these ingredients 5 … which is crazy because many of them are known carcinogens.
So please, please, please keep synthetic fragrances from cleaners, laundry detergents, air fresheners, candles etc. out of your house while you’re pregnant, nursing, and raising children…pretty much always!
Now for the really good news: you can clean almost anything with baking soda and plain old distilled white vinegar. We also love (and use) the all-in-one Concentrate from Branch Basics…which transforms into any cleaning products you could ever need, from bathroom cleaner, to window spray, to laundry soap, hand soap, produce wash, and beyond.
You can also check out EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning for better alternatives.
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3: Detoxify your beauty routine
Good beauty and personal care products can be a major lifesaver/confidence booster when you’re pregnant.
Unfortunately, they are one of the top sources for many chemicals like:
- Phthalates—hormone mimickers which can raise your risk of miscarriage,8 increase your risk of gestational diabetes,9and may cause harm to developing male genitals in utero.10 Certain types of phthalates are also classified as “probable carcinogens” by the EPA.11
- Parabens—these hormone disruptors may interfere with the proper growth and development of boys in-utero and in the first few years of life.12
- Bisphenol-A (BPA)—also increases risk of gestational diabetes13and miscarriage,14and could alter brain and behavioral development of unborn babies, especially if exposed during late pregnancy.15
- And “fragrance”—which has been shown to negatively impact the development of male babies’ reproductive organs in-utero. Plus (like we mentioned above) fragrances are one of the world’s top allergens and have been linked to a slew of chronic health issues including asthma,16 migraines,17 and even cancer.18
This is important because your skin absorbs the majority of whatever it comes into contact with, to say nothing of what we inhale (powders, hairspray, perfume, etc.) and even ingest (lipstick, lip gloss, flavored lip balms, etc.) during our daily beauty routine.
Now, if you’re thinking: “How many chemicals can I possibly be exposed through my skincare and makeup?” Prepare to be shocked: reports have shown the average woman uses 12 personal care products a day, exposing her to over 168 unique chemicals…. before she even walks out the door.
168 chemicals?! That’s right, those product ingredient lists are loonnngg mamis…and skin and beauty care companies aren’t required to list every single ingredient either.
While the European Union has banned approximately 1,400 harmful chemicals and ingredients from personal care products,19 the United States has only banned about 30…let that sink in for a minute.
Skincare and beauty products can be both safe and effective. That is why we recommend using resources like the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and Think Dirty to evaluate the safety of their personal care products. You can also look for the EWG VERIFIED mark on products that meet EWG’s strict criteria based on a variety of health standards.
We both love Beautycounter and use their skincare, makeup, and hair products.
4: Break up with plastics
This is important to do right now for three reasons:
#1: Plastics contain a slew hormone-disrupting chemicals, beyond just BPA, 20 that you do not want in your body while you’re pregnant (see above for more info on BPA and phthalates…and they’re just the tip of iceberg).
#2. You’ll want to get into the habit of avoiding plastics once baby comes along, because they’re in so many baby products…from milk storage bags, to baby bottles, to pacifiers, to teethers, and beyond.
#3: It’s not news that our oceans are being choked out by plastics…not to mention the average person now ingests about a credit card’s worth of plastic a year,21(yick!) so by avoiding them for your personal health you’ll help the planet too.
Here’s how to start cutting down your plastic use and consumption:
- Use glass, ceramic, or even silicone storage containers (Mason jars are great for this).
- Use reusable wax wrap, like Bee’s Wrap®, instead of plastic wrap.
- Swap out plastic water bottles and travel mugs for stainless steel, glass or ceramic.
- If you buy beverages like juice, lemonade, or milk, opt for glass bottles over plastic.
- Stop microwaving or heating food in plastic! This includes pre-made meals, you’re much better off taking them out of the plastic container and heating them, preferably in the oven or stovetop.
- If you get a coffee or tea to-go, take the lid off before you drink it.
- Opt for pantry staples in glass jars vs cans, which are often lined with BPA or similar.
5: Eliminate hidden sources of pesticides in your food, home, and yard
This quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics pretty much sums up why pregnant and pregnant-to-be women need to be concerned about pesticides:
“Understanding the chronic health implications from both acute and chronic [pesticide] exposure are emerging. Epidemiologic evidence and animal studies demonstrate associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”
— American Academy of Pediatrics
How to avoid pesticides in food:
- Choose local, seasonal, and organic produce whenever possible.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables using mild additive-free soap and clean water to limit exposure to organochloride pesticides (OCs) and organophosphate pesticides (OPs), including glyphosate. We are fans of Branch Basics as a produce wash, too!
- If you can’t buy everything organic, don’t panic! While not perfect, the EWG “Dirty Dozen” provides some guidance on high-pesticide produce. Also look for “Non-GMO Verified” products, and buy organic meats and dairy if you can.
- Buying organic will also help you avoid GMOs.
How to avoid pesticides in your home and your yard:
This is an easy one: avoid spraying your home and lawn with synthetic pesticides.
Yes, that probably means cancelling your monthly lawn care service, and you’ll definitely want to ditch those weed killers in your garage, but it will be worth it to grow a healthy, strong baby.
If you live near a golf course or public park, some of these factors may be out of your control. Our best advice is to find out when they spray and take precautions on those days – like keeping windows closed and not visiting the park on those days.
Removing shoes you’ve worn outside helps prevent pesticides from entering your home, as does taking steps to clean up your cleaning caddy, like we mentioned above (many conventional cleaners also contain harmful pesticides).
Reference the EPA’s Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety for tips on prevention and safer alternatives, including “biological controls” like ladybugs.
The bottom line: we live in a toxic world, but there’s a lot we can do to minimize exposure before, during, and after pregnancy, to protect our health and our babies health too.
If this seems overwhelming, then choose one point to focus on this week, like reducing your exposure to pesticides. Then, move onto swapping out plastics, etc. Before you know it, you’ll have created a much healthier home to nest, relax, and enjoy your pregnancy.