Few things are more exciting than welcoming a new baby into the world. From the moment they learn the happy news, new parents-to-be feel a tremendous responsibility to their baby’s health and well-being. Most moms-to-be avoid alcohol and shun cigarettes in their attempts to follow their doctor’s many recommendations. But we are now learning that expecting women should be conscious of potential toxins in the environment not only during pregnancy but even before conception. Studies have shown that the umbilical cord, which delivers vital nutrients to the baby, can also transfer pollutants from the mother’s environmental exposure. In 2005, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in the U.S. and found the samples contained an average of 200 chemicals, including industrial pollutants, pesticides and flame retardants.
“During the nine months in the womb, the developing body undergoes rapid change, making it especially susceptible to toxic exposure,” says Janelle Sorensen of the nonprofit Healthy Child Healthy World. “There is increasing evidence that in utero exposure to environmental chemicals, at levels commonly found in our homes, may alter a child in ways that may not be apparent until later in life.”
Fortunately, simple actions before and during pregnancy can help ensure your baby a good start and boost his or her health from day one.
Be picky with your personal care
One easy way to decrease exposure to toxins before you even conceive is to use 100-percent natural personal care products. Synthetic ingredients commonly found in cosmetics, like parabens and phthalates, can disrupt hormones your baby will rely on for proper development. Natural ingredients, preferably grown in organic and Biodynamic® gardens, are the safer option. Look for products certified natural by third-party agencies like NaTrue, NSF, USDA and NPA.
In general, Sorensen recommends choosing products with a short natural ingredient list and an expiration date, which means they’re likely free of synthetic preservatives. Weleda’s Calendula Oil, for example, has only three ingredients—sweet almond oil, Biodynamic® calendula extract and chamomile extract—plus essential oils. Calendula Oil was the first product Weleda created that was made especially for a baby’s delicate skin. Developed with midwives and physicians, it was introduced in 1959 and is still one of the company’s most popular baby care products. It was soon followed by the Calendula Baby Cream. Like all Weleda products, their shelf life is a short two years.
Another easy way to cut down on chemical exposure is by using fewer products overall. Let your skin glow with a simple routine of cleansing, toning and moisturizing, with certified-natural products like those from Weleda.
Choose your food wisely
A diet low in pesticides, artificial additives, preservatives, food colors and other chemicals will support the healthy development of your growing baby. “Today’s modern diet is grown, processed and packaged using toxic chemicals,” says Sorensen. “The easiest way to eat healthier is to start making your own. Buying whole foods reduces your exposure to many synthetic additives.”
The growing consensus among scientists, according to the EWG, is that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can cause lasting damage to human health, especially during fetal development and early childhood. The good news is that you can lower your pesticide exposure by 90 percent simply by avoiding the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables, as identified by the EWG. (Get EWG’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce at foodnews.org.) Midwife Elizabeth Davis, author of Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying and Pleasurable Birth Experience, suggests buying organic whenever possible, especially dairy products and meats, to reduce exposure to hormones that could affect your baby’s development.
As mentioned before in this special 90-year anniversary issue of we, sustainability is one of Weleda’s most important values. People need nature, and when you choose food and personal care products made from organic ingredients, you help support the long-term health of our planet, and future generations.
Clear the air
Surprisingly, the air inside our homes is often more polluted than the air outside. Perfumes often contain phthalates, so when possible, choose fragrance-free products or those made with only natural essential oils, which also boast aromatherapeutic benefits. Another good idea is to choose candles made from oils of soy and coconut instead of paraffin, and open the windows often to let in fresh air.
It’s especially important for moms-to-be to steer clear of fumes from household cleaning products, which have been linked to health issues, says Davis. Fortunately, many eco-friendly options exist, or you can make your own at home with vinegar and baking soda. Remember that the type of paint you choose for the nursery matters more than the color: Opt for zero-VOC formulas that will not release potentially harmful volatile organic chemicals into the air.
To avoid tracking pesticides indoors, Sorensen recommends taking off your shoes. If pests are a problem, prevent them through good sanitation and food storage habits and by structurally barring their entry.
Most importantly, enjoy this special time and remember that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Start out by choosing a few simple steps to take in your own home, and when they become habit, move on to a few more,” says Sorensen. “Just take it day by day. Remember that a healthy diet and regular exercise will help ensure a strong body that’s better able to fight off the effects of environmental exposures.” After all, it’s never too early, or too late, to start reducing your exposure to toxins in the environment—for your health and your baby’s. cr