What was once thought of as a barrier from the outside world, the placenta (the organ that grows alongside your baby, transporting nutrients and removing waste) does not actually function as a filter. The placenta does not “keep out” what an expecting mother is exposed to on a daily basis (chemicals she puts on her body, chemicals she cleans her home with, chemicals she eats, etc.) from her growing baby's environment. In fact, there are multiple evidence based studies that show that harmful chemicals can pass straight through the placenta to growing babies.
“Hazardous chemicals have been found in cord blood, placenta, meconium, and breastmilk samples. These chemicals include commonly known hazards such as lead, mercury, and environmental tobacco smoke, as well as some pesticides, solvents, products containing chlorine, and other chemicals referred to as “persistent organic pollutants.” The fetus is particularly vulnerable to environmental chemicals that can disrupt the developmental process at critical times during gestation.” - Environmental Hazards Education for Childbirth Educators (published in The Journal of Perinatal Education)
While you cannot control all of your exposure to the toxins around you that are in the environment (toxins that will effect your health and your babies health), you can take steps toward creating a safer internal environment for pregnancy. Limiting your exposure to harmful substances such as toxic household cleaning products, smoke and second hand smoke exposure, bath and body products that contain harmful ingredients, etc, before pregnancy is best. Your growing baby is most vulnerable to adverse effects from these toxins in early pregnancy, but of course toxic chemicals at any gestational age are harmful. If you are already expecting, now is the time to be aware and make necessary changes for the health of your growing baby. When you know better, you do better!
“Strong evidence indicates a connection between child health and development and prenatal exposure to air, water, food, and product contaminates. Development of the immune system in utero begins in the first few weeks after implantation. Factors related to the development of the immune system either increase the susceptibility or resistance to diseases such as asthma, allergy, and immune deficiency. The thymus, which appears at the end of the first trimester, promotes maturation of lymphocytes in the first few years of life. By the end of the second trimester, the fetus has the ability to “mount antigen-specific responses” to viruses and parasites. Prenatal exposures to environmental hazards have been shown to cause dysregulation of these processes.” - Environmental Hazards Education for Childbirth Educators (published in The Journal of Perinatal Education)
Some of the harmful chemicals found to have passed through the placenta are lead, methyl mercury, tobacco smoke, pesticides, solvents, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, Bisphenol A and other potentially toxic chemicals such as brominated flame retardants and chlorination disinfection by-products.
A number of these toxic chemicals listed above are known human carcinogens (known to cause cancer in humans) and are surprisingly found right in the ingredient list of most bath and body products and household cleaning products. These harmful chemicals can also be found in conventional (non-organic) produce and processed foods.
Some of these chemicals are harmful only at high doses, while others are harmful even at low doses. When it comes to a combination of toxic chemicals, we know little of the heightened risk for adverse effects.
What to avoid and replace
Dioxin - Dioxin is an organic chemical but is known by the World Health Organization to be highly toxic. According to WHO, “the developing fetus is most sensitive to dioxin exposure. Newborns, with rapidly developing organ systems, may also be more vulnerable to certain effects”. Dioxin can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, disrupt hormones and cause cancer. It is found in bleached products (paper towels, coffee filters, feminine hygiene products, etc.) conventional produce, and animal products.
As replacements, look for unbleached paper/cotton products and always choose organic produce and pastured/organic animal products.
Cleaning products - According to the Environmental Working Group (a non-profit organization focused on environmental and public health) most cleaning products contain lung-harming ingredients. In addition, well-known carcinogens like formaldehyde and chloroform were found in most household cleaners, all of which can pass through the placenta to your growing baby.
Reading cleaning product ingredient lists isn’t always helpful because all ingredients do not have to be disclosed on product packaging in the United States. Choose cleaning products from trusted companies that care about public health and commit to ingredient honesty. Some safe companies include Dr. Bronners and ECOS. Dr. Bronners castile soaps are highly concentrated and can be diluted to make all purpose cleaner and hand soap. Dr. Bronners Sal Suds can be diluted to make dishwashing soap. Alternatively, half vinegar, half water, and essential oils can be used to clean all household surfaces.
Bath and body products - Store bought bath and body products (shampoos, lotions, perfumes, etc) are mostly full of harmful chemicals. Peek at the ingredient list on the back of just your shampoo bottle and you will be surprised to see chemicals that are known to be harmful to humans (even at low levels) right there on the label. When you wash your hair, your scalp is absorbing a percent of the shampoo ingredients which will then enter your blood stream. You are also breathing in the fragrance chemicals into your lungs from the warm, moist air while you shower. These chemicals are mostly filtered from your body but not before they pass through the placenta and straight into your growing baby, causing possible adverse effects.
There are many safe and affordable bath and body products that you can swap out. Dr. Bronners, Innersense, and 100 Percent Pure are a few companies who sell non toxic bath and body products.
According to the Environmental Working Group, women use an average of 12 products a day, containing about 168 different chemicals. Shampoo, soap or body wash, shaving cream, conditioner, lotion, perfume, cosmetics, surface cleaner, air freshener, candles, laundry soap, and the list goes on. All of these products contain chemicals that reach your developing baby and most are known to be harmful, causing an increased risk for health problems.
Be mindful of the products you use. Read ingredient lists, research, and choose wisely. Help create and keep a safe environment for your growing baby!