During the first few weeks of pregnancy a baby’s body undergoes rapid growth and each development relies on precise, successful development in the previous stage. Because so much is happening so quickly, these first weeks are a particularly vulnerable period. Since nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended, living an eco-conscious, healthy lifestyle may be the best thing you can do to prepare your body for having children, planned or not.
This goes for the gentlemen too - toxins are known to affect the health and mobility of sperm. To prevent birth defects or other unintended health impacts, get started now.
Here are 10 tips to prepare for your pregnancy:
1. Avoid produce with pesticides. According to the Environmental Working Group, you can lower your pesticide exposure by 90 per cent simply by avoiding the most contaminated conventionally grown produce: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears. If you’re really craving one of these foods, opt for organic. Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that have the lowest levels of pesticide residue include: onion, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomato, and sweet potato.
2. Feast on folic acid before conceiving and while pregnant. Sources include dried beans and peas, citrus fruit, spinach and broccoli. Adequate folic acid early in a baby's development helps prevent neurological defects, such as spina bifida. Note: too much folic acid may pose it's own risks, so talk with your doctor about how much you need.
3. Reduce consumption of alcohol and caffeine, and quit smoking. Women who smoke during pregnancy (or are exposed to secondhand smoke) are more likely to give birth to small babies with low birth weight. Alcohol and caffeine lower overall health and can negatively impact a fetus.
4. Ease up on animal fats. Animal products can contain synthetic hormones, antibiotics and organochlorine chemicals, such as dioxin, DDT and other pesticides, which concentrate in animal fat. The same chemicals that accumulate in animal fats are transferred to our own when we eat them. Then they linger there for years quietly causing damage. When you buy meat, poultry or dairy, look for low fat options (get the unsaturated fats your body needs from plant sources like walnuts, flax seeds, and avocadoes). Trim all fats and skins and broil meats and fish so that the fats drain away. Avoid frying, which will lock in the contaminants. You can also do your body a favor by reducing how much meat you eat. Making even one vegetarian meal a week can make a big difference.
5. Select safer seafood. Eating seafood is the primary way we are exposed to methylmercury, a potent neurotoxin. Fish can also be contaminated with PCBs, which are a probable carcinogen. Still, fish are an important source of good fats known as Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Eat seafood in moderation and choose types with lower levels of contamination like Herring, Mackerel, Anchovies, Clams, Wild Alaskan Salmon, Shrimp, Tilapia, and Black Sea Bass
6. Get smart about plastics. Some plastics cause dangerous pollution during manufacturing and some contain chemicals suspected of causing harm - especially to developing fetuses. Avoid those numbered 1, 3, 6, or 7 (PC). These resin codes are typically on the bottom of an item in a triangle of arrows. When using any plastic, be safer by not using in the microwave or with hot food (the heat promotes leaching). Discard or stop using for food and beverages when the product begins to have signs of wear and tear. Also, ban the can. Canned foods and beverages are lined with a plastic resin that contains bisphenol-A, a hormone-disrupting chemical. Many manufacturers are beginning to explore safer alternatives, but in the meantime you should choose foods that are fresh, dried or frozen or packaged in glass jars.
7. Wet your whistle with water. Americans drink an overwhelming amount of sodas, sports drinks, energy boosters, juices (that often contain little juice), and other bottled beverages. The first problem with this is that most of these drinks are loaded with sweeteners and artificial flavors and colors. The second is that they’re bottled in plastic, which can leach additional chemicals into the drink. Your body is roughly 70% water, so hydrate it with water! Skip the single-use bottled water which can be contaminated by the plastic bottle (it’s also less regulated than tap water.) Make an investment in a water filter and reusable stainless steel water bottles. They quickly pay for themselves.
8. Test for lead while planning your pregnancy. Lead is a potent neurotoxicant that is stored in the bones and can be passed to a developing baby through the placenta. Test your paint if your home was built before 1978. The US Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of certified labs where you can send paint samples. Removal of lead paint must only be done by a professional and pregnant women should stay away from the area until it is thoroughly cleaned. Test your tap water for lead and talk to your doctor about having your blood tested for lead.
9. Use fewer personal care products. Many personal care products contain chemicals that disrupt hormones your baby will rely on for proper development. And others contain carcinogens and neurotoxicants, among other things. The best thing for you and baby is to reduce how much you use and to choose the safest products. Look for products with fewer ingredients – ideally those with the USDA Certified Organic Seal. Avoid products with Parabens, Phthalates (DEHP, BBP, DBP, DMP, DEP), DMDM Hydantoin, Fragrance, Triclosan, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, DEA (diethanolamine) and TEA (triethanolamine), Formaldehyde, PEGs (polyethylene glycol), and anything with "glycol" or "methyl."
10. Clean without toxic chemicals. You don't need a chemical arsenal to keep your home clean. Basic ingredients like baking soda and vinegar can tackle most household chores. Or, you can look for natural products at the store (don't be fooled by marketing, though. Check the label for ingredients.) Avoid products that say poison, warning, or danger and products with unidentified "fragrance." You should also avoid the top toxics: nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), triclosan, ammonia, chlorine bleach, DEA, TEA, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, and sulfuric acid.
Christopher Gavigan is Chief Executive Officer of Healthy Child Healthy World. For more than a decade, he has dedicated himself to improving the lives of children and families. He holds degrees in environmental science and geography from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has extensive graduate training in child psychology and education. He has worked as an ecology and sciences teacher in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area, and as a child and family specialist. He is the founder of Pinnacle Expeditions, an outdoor leadership program for teenagers.