Chemicals in pregnancy

Chemicals in pregnancy

Take folic acid, don’t eat unpasteurised cheese, make sure meat, fish and eggs are cooked well, stay away from cat litter trays, wear gloves when you garden, cut down on your caffeine intake and avoid alcohol. These are just some of the many things pregnant women like me have to think about on a daily basis.

This week, we had more advice to add to the list. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' said expectant mothers may want to ‘play it safe’ and avoid chemicals found in many common household products. They advised we should:

● use fresh food rather than processed foods whenever possible 
● reduce use of foods/beverages in cans/plastic containers, including their use for food storage
● minimise the use of personal care products such as moisturisers, cosmetics, shower gels and fragrances
● minimise the purchase of newly produced household furniture, fabrics, non–stick frying pans and cars whilst pregnant/nursing
● avoid the use of garden/household/pet pesticides or fungicides (such as fly sprays or strips, rose sprays, flea powders)
● avoid paint fumes
● only take over–the–counter analgesics or painkillers when necessary
● do not assume safety of products based on the absence of ‘harmful’ chemicals in their ingredients list, or the tag ‘natural’ (herbal or otherwise).

Visit the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website for the full report

Some of this doesn’t sound new – I always try to eat fresh rather than processed food anyway, I’ve been trying to stay away from strong paint fumes (and have been opening windows when I paint my nails!) and try to clean my house using only vinegar rather than strong chemical sprays.

But I’m very unsure how to deal with other things on the list. How can I minimise the use of moisturisers when pregnancy has made my skin drier than ever? I’m using cocoa butter, Bio Oil and moisturisers made specifically for mums-to-be. Are they safe? What can I use to stay clean instead of shower gel? As I’m a vegetarian, I often use tinned beans to keep my protein intake up – should I stop and spend ages soaking dried beans instead? Should I replace all my plastic food containers with glass ones? I don’t even want to think about giving up cosmetics - I wouldn’t want to scare anyone by wearing no make up when presenting on the television.

While the report has been widely criticised for being alarmist and putting more pressure on pregnant woman, I’m very grateful to the scientists behind it for educating us about what may be harmful to babies. The report’s authors have admitted that obtaining more definitive guidance is likely to take many years but in the meantime, they have certainly raised awareness of the current issues surrounding chemical exposure during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which they say is the purpose of their document. It’s great we’re talking about the possible risk of chemicals and it’s a shame criticism has overshadowed this opportunity to ask the questions that so many of us now surely have.