We talk a lot about the foods to avoid during pregnancy, but it’s actually just as important to take a look at some of the other non-food products we expose ourselves to every day – think water bottles, sunscreen, pads, hand sanitizer, make-up and shampoo.
Unfortunately, these everyday items have lots of chemicals that can mess with our hormonal systems by mimicking real hormones or blocking them from binding to and communicating with cells. And during pregnancy, these kinds of endocrine disruptions, which have been linked to stress, obesity, PMS, reproductive issues, early onset puberty and immune disorders, can have long-lasting effects on our babies and their development.
While it’s impossible to avoid all toxins, your best bet during pregnancy is to be extra cautious and read ingredient labels on everything. Here are a few key ingredients you’ll want to watch out for.
1. Benzophenone or “benzones,” which is an ingredient used in most sunscreen (including children’s sunscreen). It’s known as a xenoestrogen, which means it mimics estrogen, and when the body thinks there is excess estrogen in the system, it throws off hormone production leading to weight gain and fatigue. For the fetus, too, benzones can pose a risk: studies have linked them with problems in brain development in children.
2. Parabens are preservatives that also mimic estrogen and that have been linked to cancer. You can find them in shampoo, moisturizers and deodorants, among many others. Already banned in Europe, they can accumulate in the body over time and cross the placenta, which can post a health risk especially after high exposure.
3. Phthalates are chemicals added to plastics to soften them and can be found primarily in food packaging. They have been shown to effect sex hormones in men and women and are linked to reproductive birth defects.
4. Bisphenoal A or “BPA” is widely used in plastics, especially food and beverage packaging. It causes high estrogen levels in men and women and in extreme cases has been linked to birth defects.
5. Dioxins are a by-product of the bleaching process conducted on personal care and food items, so check the ingredients on your pads – since they are considered by the FDA to be “medical devices” they are barely regulated. Women who use non-toxic feminine care product report a lower occurrence of vaginal infections and even lighter periods.
6. Artificial fragrances are unfortunately found in almost everything. Ninety-five percent of them contain phthalates and often times “benzones,” so opt for natural fragrance or no fragrance to limit your exposure.
7. Glycol ethers can show up on ingredient labels as polyethylene glycol, ethylene glycol or propylene glycol in items such as medications, personal care products and cleaning products. They have been shown to effect growth rate of the fetus, so it's extra important for pregnant women to be cautious of.
8. Antibacterial agents such as Triclosan are similar in structure to BPA and are commonly found in hand sanitizers. When coupled with alcohol (as they most often are), they are more readily absorbed by the body, and triclosans will disrupt hormones that are responsible for your baby's growth. So if you do use hand sanitizers, opt for an alcohol-free version.
Photo by Mariliana Arvelo of Stylish & Hip Kids.