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Doctors Urged to Talk More with Pregnant Women About Harmful Toxins

Where do you get your information about what to avoid during pregnancy?

What has your doctor told you about environmental exposure and pregnancy? A new report suggests, not enough.

According to a paper published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, most prenatal care-providers don’t have the training or tools required to educate pregnant women on the risks of environmental exposure. And yet studies are always coming out showing that fetal exposure to environmental toxins can have a harmful and often lasting impact.

Now, Sheela Sathyanarayana, MD, MPH, of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and her team created a guide to help doctors educate their patients. “There are simple ways to reduce exposures to lead, mercury, pesticides and endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA by following the guidelines we have outlined,”said Dr. Sathyanarayana.

Here are some highlights:

Environmental Exposures: Tips for Reproductive Health Care Providers, Preconception and Prenatal Women

Mercury: Exposure can come from eating fish, contact with quicksilver, and use of skin-lightening creams. Exposure during pregnancy can lead to adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes that include lower IQ, poor language and motor development… Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tile fish and large tuna.

Lead: Risk factors for exposure include recent immigration to the U.S., occupational exposure, imported cosmetics, and renovating or remodeling a home built before 1970. Lead is neurotoxic to a developing fetus… Never eat nonfood items (clay, soil, pottery or paint chips); avoid jobs or hobbies that may involve lead exposure; stay away from repair, repainting, renovation and remodeling work conducted in homes built before 1978; eat a balanced diet with adequate intakes of iron and calcium; avoid cosmetics, food additives and medicines imported from overseas; and remove shoes at the door to prevent tracking in lead and other pollutants.

Pesticides: Exposure can come from eating some produce and from using pesticides in your home or on your pets. Exposure to pesticides in pregnancy has been shown to increase risk of intrauterine growth retardation, congenital anomalies, leukemia and poor performance on neurodevelopmental testing… Do not use chemical tick and flea collars or dips; avoid application of pesticides indoors and outdoors; consider buying organic produce when possible; wash all fruits and vegetables before eating; and remove shoes at the door.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: Human prenatal phthalate exposure is associated with changes in male reproductive anatomy and behavioral changes primarily in young girls. Animal studies suggest prenatal exposure to BPA is associated with obesity, reproductive abnormalities and neurodevelopmental abnormalities in offspring. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals mimic or antagonize the effects of hormones in the endocrine system and can cause adverse health effects that can be passed on to future generations… Decrease consumption of processed foods; increase fresh and/or frozen foods; reduce consumption of canned foods; avoid use of plastics with recycled codes #3, #6 and #7; be careful when removing old carpet because padding may contain chemicals; and use a vacuum machine fitted with a HEPA filter to get rid of dust that may contain chemicals.

Read the complete list of recommendations with links to sources.

I recall getting a hand-out from my ob/gyn about things-to-avoid during pregnancy but much of my education in the finer aspects of The Endless No came from other sources: friends, books, news and product labels. Like many pregnant women I felt like I was walking through a mine-field of listeriosis and toxoplasmosis. It was hard to tell which warnings were neurotic and which were vital. The swirl of information felt oppressive or alarmist at times, protective at others. Then, when I read that the umbilical cord has 200 known chemicals flowing through it, I got mad. Is anyone regulating this crap?? Pregnancy can be a game-changer when it comes to attitudes about the environment. I know that such an awakening is a positive thing, but it can feel pretty horrifying in the moment… as you’re darting across the street to avoid wafts of carbon monoxide from an idling ice-cream truck, or scanning a menu for something, anything, safe.

How have your ideas about environmental toxins been shaped or changed during pregnancy?

Where do you get your information about toxins?

Follow Ceridwen’s pregnancy and birth blogging on Facebook or check out her book From The Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Becoming a Parent.

Photo Credit: Davhor/Flickr

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