Healthy babies start with healthy pregnancies. Most people understand that concept. But too many women don’t know that healthy pregnancies start with healthy homes.
“Women don’t always think about the hidden hazards of environmental exposure before becoming pregnant and what they can do to increase the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy and healthy child and improve their chances of becoming pregnant in the first place," said Julie Friedman, director of the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Education and Research Center. "Toxic chemicals can be found in everyday household and personal care products as well as in food. Knowing what to watch out for and selecting healthy alternatives can help reduce exposure."
Some women are more at risk from these environmental exposures than others.
“Many lower-income women living in areas with poor air or near manufacturing facilities face added exposure to environmental containments," Friedman said. "Because lower-income women are more likely to be exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals and pollutants, we work with community groups to help teach as many people as possible how to reduce their personal risks.”
Specifically, Friedman and her colleagues at the center are training Los Angeles health educators to spread the word on how to avoid exposure to potentially toxic substances during, even before, pregnancy. Among the tips:
- Don’t spray bugs. Instead of using poison sprays, dusts or chemical bombs to fight insects, seal cracks that insects use to enter homes, clean up crumbs so they have nothing to eat, and use traps to capture them.
- Avoid, and reduce, lead exposure. Use water-based paints, glues and materials for home improvements instead of lead-based materials. Also, because lead can be found in existing house paints, dust and garden soil, always wash your hands before preparing or consuming food.
- Get out the mop. Household dust can contain a variety of chemicals and contaminants, so use a wet mop or clot to get rid of it. A dry cloth will simply spread the dust.
- Use non-toxic products. Household cleansers can contain potentially risky chemicals, so be sure the cleaners you use are non-toxic. You could even make your own non-toxic – and inexpensive -- cleaning solution by mixing 1 cup of white distilled vinegar with 1 cup of water.
- Choose your fish carefully. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, all of which can have high levels of lead. Instead, eat salmon, tilapia, Pollock, catfish, king crab, shrimp and light canned tuna, all of which have low mercury levels.
- Beware of plastics with bisphenol A or polyvinylchloride. The compound bisphenol A (BPA) has been linked to infertility, cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty and behavorial changes in children. It’s found in some plastics and in the lining of some food cans. In laboratory animals, polyvinylcholoride has been found to affect reproduction, sexual development and the developing immune system. It’s most often found in piping and hard plastics, but can also be found in some cling wraps, plastic squeeze bottles and plastic jars.
- Avoid foods that might contain pesticides or other toxic substances. Instead of eating food from cans, which might contain bisphenol A (BPA), choose fresh and frozen produce, especially those fruits and vegetables with thick skin that can peeled. Also, avoid animal fat, which can accumulate toxic chemicals.
- Choose products that don’t contain fire retardants. Buy products such as crib mattresses, nap mats and other upholstered products that have been labeled as free of flame retardants.
- Read labels, even on cosmetics. Beware of products containing formaldehyde, galaxolide, hydroquinone, lead, oxybenzone, parabens, phthalates, sodium laureth sulfate, thimerosal, toluene, tonalide and 1,4-dioxane.
- Take your shoes off. Shoes can track contaminated dust and other pollutants into the home. Better to leave them at the door and put them on again just before you go outside.
To date, the women’s health and pregnancy experts at the Iris Cantor Women’s Health Center have worked with 10 community-based organizations to help spread knowledge of these, and other, healthy pregnancy tips through their “Healthy Home, Body, and Baby” program.
To learn more about partnering with the Iris Cantor Women’s Health Education and Research Center, go to www.womenshealth.ucla.edu.
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