There was a time when doctors told pregnant mothers it was okay to smoke and drink alcohol because their babies were protected by the placenta.
Obviously, now we know that a Mad Men style pregnancy is not the way to go. But we’re still learning about how to protect our babies in utero.
Since what goes into your body is crucial to the healthy development of your baby, it’s super important to eat healthy before you’re even pregnant.
First off, nix pesticides. A 2012 study found that exposure to pesticides posed the same risk in pregnancy as smoking tobacco: lower birth weight and earlier labor. The study subjects weren’t farm workers; they were exposed to pesticides through their everyday environment, just like most of us.
Cutting out pesticides is probably easier than you think, since 80 percent of our exposure comes from pest-killing chemicals, according to the EPA. First off, get anything with a poison label out of your cupboards. To control pests, try natural remedies like red pepper for ants, white wine and dish soap for fruit flies, keeping crumbs off of counters, pouring boiling water over weeds. These things really work! Oh, and avoid antibacterial soaps, which depend on pesticides like triclosan to kill germs—warm water and soap works just as well or better, according to the FDA.
The next biggest place we’re exposed to pesticides is through food. According to the Environmental Working Group, a conventional apple can contain as many as 56 different types of pesticides. But you can lower your exposure by 90 percent simply by avoiding the most contaminated conventionally grown produce.
Confused? Remember, the more delicate-skinned fruits and vegetables tend to absorb more pesticides; typically, you can peel off some of the pesticide residue. When faced with the choice of a conventional apple or orange, choose the orange!
Make sure you choose wisely when it comes to dairy products and meat. Unfortunately, even organic, free-range can’t protect you from some toxic chemicals such as dioxin, which is found in meat. These substances accumulate in animal fat, transfer to our bodies when we eat meat, and can even be passed on to our children when we’re pregnant.
Doctors agree that meat is fine in moderation, but the all-American diet of meat once—or even three times—a day is probably not the best thing for anybody, especially an expectant mom. I’m not a vegetarian, but I did shift my focus during pregnancy towards more beans and whole grains and less meat—maybe once or twice a month. I also looked for more low-fat meats, and reduced the fat content by trimming it away before cooking.
Once you’ve got your healthy ingredients in place, make sure you keep them that way by cooking without non-stick pans. When a pan is heated to high temperatures—like to make those quesadillas you’re probably craving right about now—non-stock coatings made from chemicals like PFOAs break apart into carcinogenic substances that have also been linked to high blood pressure in pregnancy, among other problems. Make your cook wear stainless steel, iron or copper coated—even if it means losing the 12-piece set and opting for a smaller number of gently-used or new pots and pans.
Should doctors recommend pregnant women avoid things like pesticides and PFOAs—just as they do cigarettes and alcohol? I think so. But please don’t freak out if you’re pregnant and haven’t made these changes yet! Studies have shown that eating organic for just a few days can eliminate many of the pesticides in our bodies.
Start where you can, and do the best that you can do—that’s enough!
Author: Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photos: Courtesy of Author