Environmental exposures may directly impact your health before, during, and after pregnancy. It’s essential to understand how the environment affects the health of you and your developing baby. While some environmental factors are out of your control, there are some that you do have control over. Let’s review the environmental toxins and factors that can impact your health and your developing child, along with some tips to empower you to keep you and your family healthy.
What are Environmental Factors?
Environmental factors such as soil, food sources, gases, light, air, water, living things, buildings, parks, temperature, and vegetation all directly impact your health and wellbeing.
Some environmental factors, such as pollution, poor water quality, additives in food and household products, and climate change, can cause harm.
Toxic Environmental Exposures
Environmental toxins can be harmful to you and your developing baby. They can be found in air and water, personal care products, food packaging, and household products. Lead, pesticides, and phthalates are some of the environmental toxins you can limit or reduce your exposure to.
Lead is an elemental heavy metal found naturally in the environment and manufactured products. Lead particles can be inhaled (e.g., lead aviation fuel, paint used before 1978, and burning lead-based materials) or ingested (e.g., dust, water, and imported food). Exposure to lead can impact the brain and central nervous system of you and your developing baby. Lead poisoning is preventable through avoidance of contact with it.
- Purchase lead-free products
- If your home was built before 1978, have a professional remove the paint, or cover it with fresh paint, wallpaper, or tile
- Use wet cloth or mop to clean floors to keep lead dust out of the air
- Filter faucet water to remove any potential lead
Pesticides are substances used to kill, repel, or control pests. Pesticide exposure during pregnancy may increase the risk for cancer, autism, and lower IQ in your developing baby.
- Avoid using pesticides: (Bug sprays and bombs, Chemical flea collars, flea baths, and flea dips)
- Use baits and traps
- Repair cracks and holes in walls
- Clean up crumbs and spills
Phthalates are chemicals used in plastics and fragrances. They can be found in personal care products (e.g., soaps, shampoos, hair spray), cleaning products, and foods processed with or packaged in plastic. Phthalates may cause harm for you and your baby, as they can impact the reproductive system, hormones, liver, kidneys, lungs, brain, and central nervous system.
- Avoid fast food and processed foods
- Make meals at home with fresh ingredients
- Avoid products with fragrance or “parfum.” Choose fragrance-free instead
- Minimize your family’s exposure to plastic and vinyl. Choose toys made from wood, cloth, and other natural materials whenever possible
Talk to Your Healthcare Provider
It’s essential to discuss potential environmental toxins that may impact the health of you and your developing baby. It’s never too early to start this discussion. Your wellness exam, pre-pregnancy, prenatal, and postpartum visits are optimal times to discuss environmental factors. Together, you can develop a plan to support the health and wellbeing of you and your child.
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Shawana S. Moore is a women’s health nurse practitioner. She serves as an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Women’s Health Gender-Releated Nurse Practitioner Program at Jefferson College of Nursing. She is passionate about equitable, respectful, and inclusive maternal-child care.