Each time I’ve been pregnant, the thought of cleaning anything has seemed about as appealing as running a marathon in stilettos. At first it’s the overwhelming drowsiness that makes mopping the floor as arduous a challenge as scaling Mount Everest. Later, the big tummy and diminished lung capacity put dusting and vacuuming on the same level as one-hundred meter sprints. In a nutshell, the best way to clean your house while you’re pregnant is to have someone else do it.
But if you’re like me and can’t afford to hire a cleaning service or just can’t rationalize paying someone else to spray down your windows with Windex when you are perfectly capable (although you may just not feel like it), your next best option is to surrender the mop to your husband.
All joking aside, the reality is that most pregnant women spend several hours a week cleaning their own homes in spite of their heavy eyelids and bulging midsections. So go ahead and hunt down those dust bunnies as long as you take a few extra precautions to ensure that your bundle of joy will arrive hale and hardy.
Hands Off the Kitty Litter
Old wives’ tales about pregnancy abound, but the rumor you’ve heard about cat litter is actually true. While it’s unnecessary to toss the kitty out with the litter, pregnant women should avoid contact with cat boxes. Cat feces can contain a parasite called toxoplasma gondii, which causes an infection known as toxoplasmosis. Although it sounds formidable, toxoplasmosis isn’t a big problem for healthy adults. It usually causes mild flu symptoms, if any at all. But its impact on a fetus is another story. Toxoplasmosis infection can lead to serious illness, pre-term birth, miscarriage, or fetal death.
Toxoplasma gondii is also found in raw meat and soil, so there are a few precautionary measures you need to take to prevent contracting toxoplasmosis during your pregnancy:
- Ask someone else to empty the litter box. If you really cannot avoid doing it yourself, wear rubber gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards with plenty of soap.
- Wear gloves for gardening and wash well after touching soil.
- Never eat raw or undercooked meat and always wash your hands and all kitchen surfaces and utensils after contact with raw meat.
- Thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables to avoid the possibility that you will ingest soil.
Toxoplasmosis is like chicken pox: Once you get it, you’re immune for life. If you’re a long-time cat owner, you may have already been exposed. A simple screening test can indicate whether you’re immune—just ask your doctor whether you’re a candidate for screening.
Get the Lead Out
I know lots of women who, driven by that legendary nesting instinct, were bursting with energy during their pregnancies. One of them actually wove her own throw rugs for her baby’s nursery, while another fashioned an elaborate origami mobile in anticipation of the new arrival. If you’re go-getter and feel the overwhelming desire to redecorate, weave and fold all you like. But be sure to steer clear of the paint.
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 ten 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.
Gardening Pesticide Free
Bug control is another chore you can happily hand over to your spouse while you’re busied by the process of adding to the family. Something deadly enough to kill other living creatures is not healthy for you and baby-to-be. If the bugs in your garden are too much for you to tolerate this season, try organic, poison-free pesticides that can be found online or at your local nursery.
Read Product Labels
When I read that I should avoid cleaning the oven during pregnancy, I gleefully informed my husband that we’d simply have to eat take-out for the next 36 weeks. If you don’t use the oven, you don’t have to clean it, right? My logic fell to pieces when I learned that I should steer clear of drain cleaners, too. While a prolonged vacation from cooking sounded fabulous, putting the bathroom into temporary retirement was a grim prospect. Since I couldn’t hold my bladder for more than 20 minutes, much less eight months, I had to come up with some creative cleaning options (and quick!).
It’s worth taking a look at the labels on products you routinely use around the house. The government requires manufacturers to label cleaners with the following terms according to their toxicity:
POISON = Highly toxic or poisonous
DANGER = Extremely flammable, corrosive, or highly toxic
WARNING or CAUTION = Moderately or slightly toxic
Oven and drain cleaners are particularly toxic substances. Play it safe by having your spouse or a friend handle these chemicals whenever using them becomes necessary and make sure these areas are well ventilated (don’t return to a recently cleaned bathroom or kitchen until the chemicals have dissipated).
Get Back to Basics
Like many expectant parents, I would suffer withdrawal symptoms if forced to part with my cell phone, computer, or digital camera. I also have an entire shelf full of the latest consumer cleaning products. After all, they’re so handy and their labels promise to make my house a germ-free, spotless haven of tranquility. But it has occurred to me that for generations, people managed to keep their homes clean using basic, organic substances like lemons, vinegar, baking soda, and soap.
Today, entire books and dozens of websites provide tips and recipes for chemical-free cleaning. One of my favorites is Safe Substitutes at Home: Non-toxic Household Products (es.epa.gov/techinfo/facts/safe-fs.html) authored by two men from the University of Tennessee Waste Management Institute. If reading the warning labels on your favorite household cleaners starts to give you willies, give one of the old-fashioned solutions a try. You might just get that coveted “lemony fresh scent” with actual lemons!
As much as you might like to, you don’t have to convince your mate that washing the dog or taking out the trash is hazardous to your health. Keeping your home clean during your pregnancy is safe as long as you use common sense. Stay away from kitty litter, paint, pesticides, and oven and drain cleaners. Read the labels of other cleaning products to determine if you feel comfortable using them. Try organic alternatives. And when all else fails, leave the cleaning until tomorrow and take a nap!