Don’t panic. But your baby’s been poisoned.
Studies of fetal cord blood show that there are about a gazillion different toxic chemicals pumping through your beloved fetus’ bloodstream right this very second.Okay, not a gazillion, but 200 or more. You’ve probably heard some of their names in the news : Bisphenol, Dioxin, Phthalates, PCBs, PFOA, Mercury.
Perhaps even more disturbingly, this is not new information. The Environmental Working Group’s Body Burden study, which was primary in raising awareness on this issue, was published in 2005. Concern about the effects of environmental toxins on the human body has been circulating for close to 50 years, since the days of Rachel Carson. Yet it’s seemingly only within the past year or so that public media outlets have taken notice of this reality.
Why has it taken so long? And what can you do about it?
You can try to avoid heavy metals, by watching your fish intake, among other things. You can be smart about plastic use and avoid or limit nonstick cookware. You can filter your water and use ventilation and houseplants to help clean the air in your home. You can choose foods that are not treated with hormones, antibiotics or chemicals. Start with this list of the worst pesticide offenders.
Last night, CNN broadcast an investigative report with Sanjay Gupta called Toxic Childhood, accompanied by a feature on CNN.com. The report featured some relaxing tidbits like: 100 percent of pregnant women walking around New York City are inhaling detectable quantities of harmful chemicals. This was determined by using a special backpack connected to a tube near each pregnant woman’s airway. I used to fantasize about such a device when I was pregnant, something that would help me steer myself to the safest side of the street, away from the toxic fumes. Except it turns out there isn’t really a safe side of the street: Not a single backpack came back chemical-free. Nor, it follows, would a single fetus. Country mamas aren’t necessarily exempt either; they’ve often got higher levels of pesticides from nearby farms.
Not everyone believes there is any health risk involved in exposure to these chemicals, particularly at the levels at which they are found in an unborn fetus. There are some vocal critics of these fetal cord blood studies who suggest that they’re whipping people up into a frenzy over nothing: Who’s to say that chemicals in a baby’s bloodstream are a BAD thing? Indeed, no direct connection between prenatal chemical exposure and health problems has been proven. It does sort of beg the question, though. Knowing how long it takes to fund and conduct a scientific study, could it just be that we haven’t gotten to the knowledge yet?
Scary though it is, hopefully all this exposure will lead to some long-overdue change. Regulation, for one thing. In Europe, there have been laws protecting children from PVC and other unstable plastics for over a decade. Yet there are no such protections in place here. The U.S. tends to be rather timid about telling corporations what to do, even when there is a question of whether chemicals in their products or by-products may be threatening our individual health. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, after all.
I was a bit of a maniac about this stuff when I was pregnant. Between the hyperacute sense of smell and the toxin anxiety…well, let’s just say you are really really glad you were not trying to paint your nails ten rows behind me on an airplane. (I’m not sure manicures should actually be permitted in mid-air, but that’s another story). I lost a lot of sleep about this, and I’m pretty sure my 4 AM freakouts did nothing to make my children any safer. So I would recommend that you relax. Don’t check out CNN and get yourself into a state of hysteria. Don’t spend forty five minutes in the shampoo aisle at Whole Foods cross-checking for phthalates and sulfates. Just try to do your best to avoid known toxins. It’s a balance. What you’re trying to do is protect your child’s future while maintaining your sense of calm and well-being in the present. Because if you’re so freaked out about pesticides that you’re in a state of stress through your entire pregnancy, you’re not doing anyone any favors. Take it from someone who knows.