Toxins, Pesticides and Pregnancy

Many women are aware that prolonged exposure to harsh chemicals is a no-no during pregnancy. However, many women tend to overlook their very regular exposure to household cleaners. Because we frequently use disinfectants and bleaches in our homes, it is easy to forget that these chemicals can be toxic. And since women are often the main cleaners in their homes, we are the ones who risk the most exposure to these toxins.

Painting has long been recognized as an unsafe activity for pregnant women. Despite the fact that today�s water-based paints are, in theory, safer than the paint we used before, most experts recommend that women avoid painting while they are pregnant. And if any painting is going on in a household with a pregnant woman, make sure the house is well ventilated.

One activity that pregnant women should definitely avoid when pregnant is paint stripping, especially if your home was built before 1978. This is because it is very likely that some of those layers of paint will contain lead. Simply breathing in the dust produced by lead paint is enough to expose both you and your baby to the lead, which can cause harm not only to your baby�s developing brain, but also to her nervous system.

Unlike household cleaners, pesticides and insecticides have been linked to birth defects, especially with exposure during the first trimester. Therefore, you should always avoid exposure to pesticides, including household gardening pesticides, and insecticides, like those used indoors for ants and cockroaches, whenever possible.

However, before you go running for cover every time you pass by a lawn that has been treated with pesticides, keep in mind that the real risk arises from intense or prolonged exposure to the chemicals.

If you can�t avoid the use of pesticides in your home, then follow these guidelines to keep yourself and your baby safe:

  • Ask someone else to apply the pesticide and leave the area for the duration of time specified on the package
  • If the chemicals are being used indoors, then make sure your home is well ventilated. If they are being applied outdoors, then shut all your windows and turn off your air conditioner so that the fumes don�t get drawn into your home.
  • For chemicals used indoors, make sure you thoroughly wash any areas where food is prepared, as well as all utensils and tableware before you use them. To minimize your cleaning, consider removing your utensils and tableware before applying the pesticide.
  • Always wear protective clothing and gloves when your are gardening to avoid exposure to plants that have been treated with pesticide. As well, this will help reduce your risk of contracting a toxoplasmosis infection from the soil.

Is Bug Spray Safe During Pregnancy?
Bug sprays containing DEET have not been properly evaluated for safety during pregnancy and therefore should be used with caution. Instead of applying the bug repellant directly onto your skin where it can be absorbed, apply it to your clothing instead. Use gloves or an applicator so the spray doesn�t get on to your hands.

How Safe Are Household Cleaners?
Although household cleaners have not been proven to be completely unsafe during pregnancy, very little research has been done to prove that they are safe. What research has been performed has shown that cleaning products can, in fact, be dangerous.

A recent British study published in December 2004 showed a link between exposure to household cleaners during pregnancy and asthma in children. Investigators found that those households that used the most chemical-based based products during pregnancy were two times more likely to have children with asthma. These findings backed up a similar Australian study that was published in August of 2004.

While these results are troubling, it is important to remember that no household cleaner has yet to be recognized as a cause of birth defects. However, it doesn�t hurt to err on the side of caution and take some precautionary measures when you know you will be exposed to chemicals. You may also want to try using Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products

Protecting Yourself
Minimize your risk of exposure to toxic chemicals by following these guidelines:

  • Always read the labels of your cleaners and avoid any that are marked as toxic
  • Always clean in a well-ventilated area
  • Since some chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, it is a good idea to wear rubber gloves when cleaning
  • Ammonia or chlorine products can trigger nausea so make sure you use these products in a well-ventilated area. However, never mix the two products together; they can create extremely dangerous fumes regardless of whether or not you�re pregnant
  • Consider using alternative cleaning solutions like baking soda or vinegar
  • Use a pump spray instead of an aerosol if you can; a pump spray creates less of a vapor cloud and therefore fewer fumes

Some cleaners that you may want to avoid or at least approach with caution include:

  • Bleach
  • Window Cleaners
  • Carpet Cleaners
  • Disinfectants
  • Dry-Cleaning Fluid
  • Aerosols
  • Air Fresheners
  • Paint Stripper

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