You find out you’re pregnant. Suddenly, you’re aware of all of the hazards of your environment: the crowd of smokers outside your building, the exhaust from the idling trucks, the perils of conventionally grown pesticide-covered vegetables. You recognize that these previously innocuous everyday things could be dangerous to you, your body, and your growing little one.

But how often do we consider what we put on our bodies as a factor in our well-being? While the skin is our protective barrier from the rest of the world, it absorbs many of the compounds we put on it each day. From makeup to shampoo, the things that pass over our skin also end up in our bloodstream--and by design--breast milk, cord blood and amniotic fluid.

The average American’s body has accumulated over 200 chemical compounds by absorption, ingestion, or inhalation. (There are over 80,000 in use in products today). While not all of these compounds are damaging, they might be; there is still not enough long-term research to confirm, so it’s worth it to take a peek at your products and ensure you’re reducing your risk as much as possible.

An endocrine disruptor is any compound that disturbs the body’s hormonal balance, including estrogen, testosterone, stress hormones, and thyroid hormones. Because these tiny molecules control a number of essential processes within the body, a slight disturbance to their natural balance can have far-reaching adverse effects on proper functioning. This is especially true for babies in utero: even the slightest change in hormone production during crucial times can change how a child develops, learns or behaves later in life.

A little awareness goes a long way. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself and the little one you’re growing.

1. Reduce the number of products you use. The average woman uses 12 personal care products each day. Fewer products means reduced potential for endocrine disruption.

2. Change your cleaning products. We spend a lot of time in our homes, so the particles of what we spray indoors to ‘keep clean’ ironically increase our bodies’ toxic load. Opt for ingredients like apple cider vinegar, baking soda and thyme oil that get the job done without the harsh effects of bleach or antibacterials.

3. Read labels. Ingredient labels can tell us a lot. Have an eye out for:

  • Phthlates: This compound has been linked to reduced testosterone production, anxiety and depression in women, and attention/ conduct disorders (like ADHD) in children. It is used to soften PVC or vinyl plastics, as well as to carry fragrance in many personal care products. (The individual ingredients for fragrance do not have to be disclosed, but you can be fairly certain a product with fragrance has phthlates added.) Avoid: fragrances, PVC plastic and nail polish. Go for: products scented with essential oils, ‘five-free’ nail lacquers and glass or BPA-free containers.
  • Triclosan: An antibacterial agent--a pesticide--found in many hand soaps, sanitizers, plastics and clothing fibers like Microban. A recent study showed that 50% of babies are born with Triclosan in their bloodstream. In addition to promoting bacterial resistance, it can also disrupt thyroid function and contribute to lower birth weight and length. Avoid: antibacterial soaps and disinfectants, treated fibers and toys. Go for: regular soap and hot water, organic fibers.
  • Parabens: This preservative in cosmetics has been linked to endocrine disruption in children and adults, and has been shown to promote growth of breast cancer cells. Avoid: ingredients ending in ‘-paraben’ (methyl-, ethyl-, or butylparaben are the most common ones). Go for: preservative-free makeup made with minerals or food-based oils.

4. Look for organic products made from food-grade ingredients. If the ingredient label reads like a who’s who of the science lab, leave it. Also, beware the ‘natural’ label: there are no criteria for manufacturers to label goods as ‘natural’ so dig a little deeper into what’s really in that bottle. If you might be able to eat it, it’s probably a better choice.

The good news? Reducing our exposure to these chemicals can have an almost immediate positive effect on the body. Tests have shown that the body is able to eliminate the stored toxins within seven days. Take a look at what you’re bringing into your body and opt for products that will promote your healthiest pregnancy possible, for both of you.

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