While overexposure to any chemical is a bad idea, there are a few that come with a skull and crossbones on the label for a reason … they're extraordinarily dangerous to handle. Read the manufacturer's safety warnings before using any cleaning product. (Oven and drain cleaners are particularly toxic.) If it's necessary to use these chemicals, play it safe by having your spouse or a friend handle them. Always ensure the room is well ventilated and don't return to a recently cleaned room until the chemicals have dissipated. When the giant "TOXIC" warning label makes you hesitate, try a natural alternative like creating a paste of soap, water, and baking soda to scrub the oven. (Add salt to the paste for extra abrasive power.)
If you're overwhelmed by that all-powerful nesting instinct and can't wait to decorate the new nursery, stick to picking colors, but be sure to stay away from the paint itself. If you're working on an older home, you run the risk of coming into contact with paint chips containing lead. Prenatal exposure to lead can cause premature birth and lead to smaller stature and impaired mental development in babies. For less than 10 dollars you can purchase a lead test kit from a hardware store or over the Internet, making a lead test a small investment in peace of mind.
Even though paints purchased today are lead-free, some contain chemicals believed to be harmful to a growing fetus. As a result, most doctors recommend that pregnant women leave the painting to someone else.
Antibacterial hand sanitizers and cleaning products have been the rage for years, and the trend shows no sign of slowing. Consumers can purchase antibacterial window cleaners, cutting boards, even mattresses. Yet the Center for Disease Control (CDC) warns that despite our nation's scrupulous sanitation efforts, we haven't reduced disease, we've actually created antibiotic resister superbugs like Staphylococcus aureus. Even more concerning for parents are the recent studies conducted in America and Europe which indicate that children raised in an "over-clean" environment are more likely to develop asthma, allergies, eczema and other autoimmune disorders. Use soap and hot water to wash your hands and most of your home. If you must disinfect, try one-quarter cup of chlorine bleach mixed with a gallon of water, but wear rubber gloves and never mix bleach with other cleaning products.
If cleaning out the litter box is one of your least favorite chores, you get a medically approved pass to delegate it to someone else while you're pregnant! That's because cat feces sometimes contains an intestinal parasite called toxoplasma gondii, which causes a condition called toxoplasmosis. It's an infection that's not particularly harmful to adults; in fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that around 60 million people carry the parasite and don't even know it! But toxoplasmosis can cause birth defects such as blindness and seizures, and can contribute to mental disabilities.
The best way to avoid contact with "toxo" is to steer clear of the litter box during your pregnancy. If you must change the litter, wear protective gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Cats are infected with toxo by eating small animals or coming in contact with another cat's infected feces, so keep your cats indoors to avoid exposing them. The parasite is also found in soil, so put your gloves on when gardening outside, particularly if your cat or neighborhood cats come in contact with your yard. Resist the temptation to pet stray cats or kittens and wait until your baby arrives before bringing a new cat into your home.
You absorb chemicals and toxins not just by breathing. Skin, your body's largest organ, absorbs them, too. So don't forget to don a pair of protective glove before cleaning.
Also, put on some gloves if you're working with your house plants. Toxoplasma gondii (the same bacteria found in your cat's litter) can be found in potting soil, too. And if your partner, friend, or family member is nearby, ask them to help with the cleaning duties!
While cleaning the top of the refrigerator or dusting the ceiling fans might not be part of your regular cleaning routine, chances are you've journeyed to the higher reaches of the your home a few times to give them a once over. Unfortunately that top shelf will need to wait to be dusted until after your due date because scaling ladders or balancing on your kitchen counters isn't a great idea when a little baby is along for the adventure.
Pregnant women are not only off balance because of their growing bellies, they're more prone to slips because of loose hip and pelvis ligaments caused by the pregnancy hormone relaxin. If the high altitude dust can't wait, invest in a telescoping dusting brush, available at home improvement stores, or wrap a damp dishtowel around a mop or broom and do your best from the safety of the floor.
Nature gives pregnant women an amazing, sometimes overactive, sense of smell. And that's a good thing. Scientists theorize that this special sensitivity to odors is a protective mechanism designed to keep expectant women from eating spoiled food in the days before refrigeration. Now we've got expiration dates to solve the bad food problem, but a sharp nose can still be used to us from dangerous substances. If you detect an unpleasant odor, scratch in your throat, or headache, leave immediately. Delegate the cleaning duties to someone else, or switch to an organic alternative (like simmering spices to freshen the air).
What's the best way of knowing exactly what you're spraying on your countertops? Take control of your home environment and make your own cleaners. Books like The Naturally Clean Home and Clean and Green contain recipes for cleaning nearly every surface of your home using basic ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, and citrus oil.
The Internet itself is full of helpful websites listing non-toxic home cleaning recipes along with testimonials from users. Consider this recipe for an all-purpose cleaner:
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon Borax
A few drops of a mild dish detergent
10 drops of essential oil (optional)
Put ingredients in spray bottle, fill with hot water, and swish to mix.
Homemade house cleaners not only keep you and your baby safe from harsh chemical and toxins, they cost quite a bit less than commercially produced cleaners, leaving a little extra money for important things like oodles of baby gear! Many natural cleaners can be made from items from your pantry. Just open fridge and mix up a batch of this furniture polish recipe recommended by Sara Noel from naturalfamilyonline.com.
1 cup vegetable or olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
Combine in a spray bottle mix, shake well and apply a small amount to a cloth.
If homemade cleaners aren't your cup of tea or you just love the way your favorite cleaning product works, try to reduce the amount of chemicals you inhale by spraying them directly into a cleaning cloth, sponge, or paper towel (remember to wear gloves and work in a ventilated area). A bit of orange oil dabbed onto a cloth is enough to dust a whole room, so there's no need to spray aerosol furniture polish across the tops of the tables. To brighten up the kitchen or bath, pour some all-purpose cleaner in a bucket, add water, don your gloves, and dip a sponge in the bucket, rather than spraying the cleaner everywhere. When it comes to chemicals in the air, less is more.