7 Sneaky Household Chemicals to Avoid During Pregnancy

Gone are the days of carefree parenting where your kids could eat dirt and you didn’t feel so guilty about not washing their apples. In those days, we weren't preoccupied with germs, they were considered essential for building our kids’ immune systems. These days though, whether it’s our obsession with sanitizing EVERYTHING or our need for a gluten-free menu (which, let’s be honest, you’ve been eating gluten your whole life), much of our society has become fearful of just about everything. 

A lot of these fears are irrational (no, that cough isn’t an early symptom of cancer) and if we listened and stayed away from everyone’s fears, we’d be living a terribly sheltered life.

With that being said, I do believe that, as a pregnant woman, there are extra precautions you could (and should) take to ensure that your child is born as healthily as possible. If there was ever a time to be cautious, now’s it.

When it comes to our house and the things we use in it, we should always try to choose the most natural and chemical-free products. Besides it being good for baby, these sneaky household chemicals are generally good for us to avoid as adults as well. As a disclaimer (and in our present day of WebMD telling you that basically every sniffle and fever is a symptom of some terminal illness), it’s important to note that sporadic exposure to certain chemicals and toxins aren’t going to kill you. Don’t turn into a bubble boy- we humans are resilient creatures.

The following is a list of 7 household chemicals to avoid during pregnancy. Again, items on this list don’t necessarily need to be forbidden indefinitely from your home (your husband might not want to give up his hair dye or cologne!), but they’re good things to keep in mind when using household products. If anything, use this as a list to divert some of the household chores over to your significant other!

7 Cleaning Products

Many of our everyday cleaning products are pumped with unnatural and inorganic chemicals that aren’t the greatest things to be touching or inhaling on a regular basis, pregnant or not. While cleaning in itself is daunting enough, it becomes almost insulting when this mundane task actually starts threatening your health. Besides the obvious indicators (like a skull and crossbones), ingredients to avoid include:

  • - Glycol ethers (found in oven and window cleaners)
  • - Phenols (mildew removers)
  • - Toluene and other solvents (found in furniture-stripping products, paint removers and varnish)

You should also avoid activities that include mixing chemicals like bleach and ammonia (the fumes are dangerous for anyone inhaling them) and using aerosols (the only thing worse than chemicals on your counters are chemicals IN YOUR AIR).

While these chemicals to avoid act as a great excuse for anyone who loathes cleaning and is looking to pass the chores to someone else (or wants a break while you grow A CHILD inside of you), there are simple measures you can take to avoid causing any risk to your or your baby (but you don’t need to tell anyone about them if you don’t want to- let someone else clean for a bit!). Here are some tips to clean without the risk:

  • - Wear gloves, long sleeves and pants limiting direct contact with your skin (go full Breaking Bad-yellow-outfit-and-gas-mask)
  • - Clean in well-ventilated areas (cracking a window will allow the fumes to dissipate)
  • - Avoid eating or drinking while using the products (you don’t want to be accidentally ingesting any of this stuff, let’s hope you’d notice if you were drinking Windex though)
  • - Create your own cleaning agents with natural products like vinegar and baking soda (natural AND cheap!)

6 BPA-Packaged Foods

While I don’t want to add to the already long list of foods you shouldn’t be eating during your pregnancy (just give me some sushi!), there are certain items you should try to avoid due to the way in which they’re packaged. Canned foods and food heated in plastic containers in particular expose you to chemicals that are dangerous to the fetus.

Besides the fact that canned foods have lost most of their enzymes and nutrients in the packaging process, canned vegetables, fruits, pasta, soup and soda contain BPA (or bisophenol A). BPA is a toxic substance found in the plastic and material that line the cans for canned foods and drinks. BPA is dangerous to everyone (not just pregnant women) and is linked to:

  • - Cancer
  • - Fertility problems
  • - Heart disease
  • - Liver problems

Shockingly, a single serving of food or drink from a can using this type of lining method exposes pregnant women to unsafe levels of BPA. While we’re all guilty of short-cutting it with Chef Boyardee (no? Just me?), and other canned foods, we really should cut out the bad habit during our pregnancy in particular.

Ways to avoid BPA (besides the obvious suggestion of just not eating food from a can) include:

  • - Eating fresh or frozen food
  • - Eating foods stored in glass jars
  • - Eating foods stored in non-BPA cans
  • - Washing any fruit or vegetables stored in a can before consumption

Another important item to be careful of are plastic containers. While many of us use Tupperware to store leftover food and to pack lunches, it’s important to not heat your food in these containers (or to drink from water bottles left out in the sun). While the chemicals are always present, they are more quickly released when heated. 

Stanford University presented findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine that indicated that high levels of BPA could cause miscarriages by up to 80% in pregnant women. Warn your guy friends about this risk too—the same findings found that high exposure to this chemical have been found to decrease male fertility by up to 20%. Heat your foods on non-plastic plates and drink from non-BPA bottles.

5 Kitty Poop

If you’re a proud, self-proclaimed cat lady (like I am), you have one (or a few) feline friends running around the house. While no one is suggesting you choose between your furry friends and your unborn child (thank goodness), there is a very specific precaution you need to take in regards to them. It’s their poop. Stay away from the kitty's poo. Cat feces (or outdoor soil contaminated with cat feces) can carry a parasite that causes an infection called toxoplasmosis. 

Let’s call it TOX-ic from here on out (see what I did there). While the infection ranges from showing no symptoms to minor flu-like symptoms for adults, it can pose serious risks for a baby in the early stages of gestation via the placenta such as eye and brain damage, birth defects and fetal death. TOX-ic can also be contracted through dealing with raw meat.

While indoor cats don’t usually pose a threat and while many outdoor kitty parents are actually already immune to the infection (since they’ve probably already contracted it without knowing), there are several precautions you can take to reduce your chances of getting infected with TOX-ic:

  • Have someone else change the litter (finally, the perfect excuse)
  • Change the litter once a day (it takes 24-48 hours for the litter to become infectious)
  • Wear protective gear (gloves and face mask) while gardening, changing the litter or dealing with raw meat
  • Wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day (which you should be doing anyway)

4  Lead and Solvent-Based Paints

The risk of modern household paint posing as a threat to your pregnancy is very low. These days, product options like latex or acrylic paint are taking over for their solvent or lead-based predecessors. While the small risks presented by paint products are greatest between weeks 0 and 13 of your pregnancy (when your child’s organs start developing), it is important to be aware of effects certain chemically-rich products can have on you and your child throughout your entire pregnancy.

Old paintwork (primarily used before the 1970's) contains lead properties that can be poisonous if entered into the body. While I’m fully aware you’re not going to be painting with products made in the 1970's, stripping down this kind of paint can be just as hazardous. Breathing in fumes with lead in it are both dangerous to you and to the development of your baby.

To reduce risks associated with painting and using paint products, there are certain activities and products pregnant women should avoid:

  • - Use products labeled as being suitable for nurseries and children’s rooms (products labeled low or zero VOC is ideal)
  • - Use water-based paints instead of oil-based paints
  • - Do not use any type of aerosol or spray paints (again, making chemicals go airborne isn’t a good idea)
  • - If you do paint, make sure the room is well ventilated
  • - Cover any exposed skin with gloves, long-sleeves and pants to avoid direct contact with skin (again, go full Breaking Bad-yellow-jumpsuit-and-gas-mask!)
  • - Avoid eating any food or drink in close proximity to paint materials to mitigate risk of ingesting the paint products (hopefully you’d notice if you were eating paint)

3 Synthetic Fragrances

The use of synthetic fragrances found in deodorants and perfumes have been a hot topic for years when it comes to what’s safe and what’s not for pregnant women. An astounding 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into the blood stream, and in a market where over 80% of fragrance products are produced with chemicals, we really need to take a good look at what we’re using on ourselves. 

People don’t realize that we’re not “glowing”, we’re actually just sweating. Like, a lot. So if you’re not looking to let go of the only products that keep you from smelling like a bag of old hockey equipment, finding alternatives to the products containing high levels of chemicals is necessary.

A simple rule of thumb is to stay away from products containing the following ingredients:

  • - A high alcohol content
  • - Mineral oils (keyword: mineral)
  • - Parabens (a synthetic preservative)
  • - Synthetic fragrances
  • - Phthalates (a fragrance preservative)

In addition to chemicals being unnatural and unhealthy anyways, the strong smells of certain synthetic fragrances are enough to get your pregnancy-sensitive gag reflexes going. For this reason, staying away from strong, manufactured smells is generally a good idea. 

Milder smelling products made with natural oils and extracts (think lavender, peppermint, rose, citrus, vanilla) are becoming more and more available at the same (or less!) cost of their chemically-infused counterparts. 

If you really can’t part with your favorite scent, stay away from it for at least the first trimester of your pregnancy- the time where the development if your child is most susceptible to problems. 

2 Beauty Products

While many women will swear off nail polish and hair dye during their pregnancy, the truth is that occasionally using these products won’t cause any harm to you or your baby. The biggest factor to consider is the level of chemicals in these products and how much of it will be absorbed into your body. With this in mind, read the labels carefully and use certain products sparingly. The following are some tips on how to stay beautiful and safe at the same time:

  • Use nail phthalate-free nail polish or paint them in a well ventilated area (nail polish isn’t absorbed through the nails)
  • Opt for mousse or gel instead of hairspray
  • Use a teeth whitening toothpaste instead of a bleaching kit
  • Use a non-chemical sunscreen (but really, limit your time in the sun)
  • Use lead-free lipstick

When it comes to hair dyes, the best way to go is ammonia-free and for highlights instead of dyeing your roots. The most dangerous part of dyeing your hair is when the chemicals used to make up the dye enter your blood stream through the skin on your scalp. 

If you limit skin contact and have it done in well-ventilated areas to avoid breathing in the fumes, the risk becomes almost completely mitigated. If you’re up to the mess, henna, a semi-permanent vegetable dye, is a great alternative to chemical dyes and is considered to be completely safe. If you ABSOLUTELY need your roots done, again, wait until the first trimester is over and don’t leave the dye on longer than recommended.

1 Anti-Bacterial Soap

While everyone promotes hand-washing and good hygiene throughout your pregnancy (and hopefully while you’re not pregnant as well), new information is causing doctors to veer women away from anti-bacterial soaps.

Ticlosan, a harsh chemical found in these soaps, has been shown to hinder enzymes that contribute to a healthy pregnancy. The metabolism of estrogen (needed to develop the brain and regulate your baby’s genes) is disrupted when enough of this chemical reaches the placenta. An even scarier thought is that not receiving enough estrogen causes the baby to get less oxygen from the mother.

Another major problem with Triclosan is that it cannot be easily broken down and thus remains in the body for long periods of time. As is the case with many chemicals, our bodies aren’t designed to deal with and process them effectively and thus lead to imbalances. This isn’t the kind of stuff you want to be rigorously cleaning your hands with regularly. Use chemical-free alternatives or search for anti-bacterial soaps that don’t contain this ingredient.

While not necessarily a household item, this item makes its way into most of our cars and homes at some point- dry cleaning. Perchloroethylene (or “perc”) is a chemical used in the dry cleaning process that easily crosses into the placenta and into your breast milk. Ways around this problem are wearing clothes that don’t require dry cleaning or airing out your clothes before bringing them inside. There are also some dry cleaners who have began using alternatives to this chemical in their cleaning methods, you just need to find them.

Remember that it is impossible to avoid everything that is bad for you during your pregnancy. Shy of locking yourself in a plastic-wrapped room and ingesting only the most organic foods and triple-distilled water, you’re going to come into contact with just about everything. As long as everything is taken in moderation and you visit regularly with your doctor, it’ll be smooth sailing (minus the bloating, sweating, weight gain, nausea, etc…). Happy pregnancy!

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