Three Reasons to Green Your Pregnancy

by Tara M. Bloom

pregnant womanLiving green is usually associated with big occasions like Earth Day. You don't have to wait until April 22 each year to focus on being environmentally-friendly. I want to share three important benefits to your baby that come with making greener choices during your pregnancy.

Why "green" your pregnancy? Your baby's first environment is your body. The cleaner your body, the better environment you provide for your baby.

Reason #1: Make Your Baby Smarter

By eating more organic foods before, during and after pregnancy, you decrease your baby's exposure to pesticides. Fetal pesticide exposure is now being linked to lower IQ and delayed cognitive and motor development. As recently as February 2011, a study showed a link between fetal exposure to pyrethroid insecticides, commonly used home pesticides, to delayed cognitive and motor development.

But the research about pesticide exposure and fetal development has been growing in the last decade.

From The Organic Center: A growing body of scientific data links prenatal pesticide exposure (where the pesticide residues in a mother’s diet cross the placenta during fetal development) and exposures during the first years of a child’s life to a variety of health issues, including low birth weight, birth defects, abnormal neurological development and reproductive problems.

Recent studies from 2006 and 2007 suggest a correlation between fetal exposure to organophosphates -- food pesticides -- and cognitive impairment.

From the Environmental Working Group: Minority children residing in New York City were found to be at greater risk of attention problems, ADHD and pervasive developmental disorder if they had been exposed to chlorpyrifos in the womb, as measured by umbilical cord blood concentrations at birth (Rauh 2006). Children of farmworkers in California's Salinas Valley performed more poorly on standardized neurobehavioral tests when their bodies carried residues of dialkyl phosphates (organophosphate metabolites) in utero or during early life (Eskenazi 2007).

The best way to "green" your pregnancy to reduce baby's exposure to pesticides is to choose organic fruits and vegetables. By eating more organic foods before, during and after your pregnancy, you not only help our soils and water stay cleaner, but you help your baby's developing brain stay cleaner and smarter, too.

Reason #2: Boost Your Baby's Immune System

By helping to clean up dioxins in the environment and minimizing your exposure to dioxins at home during pregnancy, you help reduce your baby's exposure to them and their harmful, life-long effects on his developing immune system.

Dioxins are highly toxic environmental pollutants that result from the use or incineration of chlorinated compounds (think bleaching paper pulp and cotton). They're also a consequence of the manufacture of insecticides and pesticides, smelting and other industry. The bad news is that dioxins are so universally prevalent that nearly every person in the world is contaminated with them. The really bad news is that scientists from both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agree that the most vulnerable population affected by dioxins are unborn babies, whose fetal exposure to dioxins may impact their developing brains, reproductive systems and lifetime immunity.

In a report on dioxin, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency have concluded that cancer is not the most serious health hazard at common exposure levels. The greatest global health concerns about dioxin, their report said, are subtle effects on fetal development and the immune system that may be the result of very low levels of exposure.

Reduce your body’s load of dioxin—and help minimize your baby’s exposure to it in utero—by cutting out chlorine in your household before, during and after pregnancy.

  • Reduce or eliminate your use of chlorine-based products in your home cleaning.
  • Reuse and recycle more. The less material that gets incinerated, the less toxic dust gets put into our atmosphere and into the food chain.
  • Purchase unbleached paper products and reduce your use of paper products.
  • Choose more clothing, bedding, towels and household items made with unbleached cotton or cotton whitened without chlorine, including organic maternity clothes.

Reason #3: Improve Your Chance for Grandchildren

USA Today ran a very lengthy story about how girls have been reaching at younger and younger ages over the years. One of the possible causes: phthalates.

Phthalates are xenoestrogens—chemicals that act in the body like the hormone estrogen. Xenoestrogens have been linked to genital abnormalities in boys, early onset of puberty and breast development in girls, infertility and low sperm count, birth defects and cancers. High exposure to phthalates in the womb may interfere with baby’s developing reproductive system and affect its trajectory for life.

Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are a class of industrial chemicals derived from oil that are used in multiple applications in our lives: they are present in our homes (vinyl flooring and cleaning products); in our cars (dashboards); our plastic bottles and food storage containers; and in our cosmetics, including perfume, body lotion, make-up, nail polish, and hair care products.

The use of these chemical compounds is so widespread that a 2000 study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found metabolized forms of dibutyl phthalates (DBP), a common ingredient in personal care products, in every single person tested. More alarming was that the highest concentrations of phthalates, in levels exceeding the federal safety standard, were found in women of childbearing age.

Improve your child's reproductive health by keeping phthalates out of your pregnancy.

Some of the green pregnancy choices you can make to avoid phthalates are:

  • Transition from plastic storage containers to glass. Never heat food in plastic.
  • Avoid bottled water; drink filtered tap water instead.
  • Discontinue eating packaged and canned foods.
  • Convert to cosmetics and body care products labeled as "phthalate-free." (All of the skin care products I have at Maternitique are phthalate-free.)

Was any of this information about having a "green pregnancy" new to you? Are you aware of these benefits already? Let us know by leaving a comment!

Tara M. Bloom has a passionate desire for women to have safe, healthy, confident experiences of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. She's the founder and CEO of Maternitique, a resource for women seeking naturally safe and beautiful maternity products through their childbearing years. Read more of Tara's maternity guides on her blog, Materni-Talk.

Copyright © Tara M. Bloom. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.