If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you may be concerned about exposure to toxic chemicals.
In late 2015, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics published a strongly worded consensus statement: chemicals used in manufacturing and agriculture are harming reproductive health. “There are tens of thousands of chemicals in global commerce, and even small exposures to toxic chemicals during pregnancy can trigger adverse health consequences,” a group of doctors from around the world wrote.
The report notes that exposure to chemicals is unevenly distributed both within the United States and around the world, and disproportionately affects those with lower incomes.
What should you do to stay safe from environmental chemicals if you’re pregnant, want to become pregnant, or breastfeeding?
The first thing to do is examine your living environment, says Nancy Wight, a neonatologist and the medical director of lactation services at Sharp HealthCare in San Diego. When you visit an obstetrician or your baby’s pediatrician, talk to them about not just your medical history, Wight says, but also your social history. Discuss your job, where you live, and what your home is like. All will help gauge your potential exposure to environmental hazards.
Do you work in a manufacturing environment or factory, for example? Even if you take precautions in such a setting, there’s still a much higher risk of exposure for you, Wight says, which could affect your health or that of your baby. “I probably would not work in a radioactive chemical laboratory,” Wight says. “I probably would change my job for a little bit.”
Still, new moms often worry too much about cleanliness, Wight says. “In the ICU, you have much more dangerous bugs than your house will ever have,” such as the common hospital-acquired MRSA “superbug.” Taking basic safety measures like making sure you have working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, keeping a clean house, and making sure everyone who interacts with the baby washes their hands and isn’t coughing, she says, go a long way.
She also suggests getting a pet. Studies have shown exposure to pets reduces the development of asthma and allergies and strengthens children’s developing immune systems.
More tips from Wight on what to avoid:
To some degree, Wight says, there’s little we can do about exposure to environmental chemical hazards, aside from working with legislators to achieve better regulation. In its statement, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics called for making environmental health part of healthcare and suggested health professionals should advocate for policies to prevent exposure to toxic environmental chemicals.
“But it’s not a reason not to get pregnant, and it’s not a reason not to breastfeed,” Wight says. “The benefits of breastfeeding greatly outweigh the normal exposure to toxins in our environment. So breastfeeding is much more important.”
May 27, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN