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Pregnancy today: A lesson in toxics

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

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When I was pregnant for the first time, I was all about prenatal yoga, checking my baby's amazing developing body online, and comparing symptoms with friends. As it should be.

What I wasn't doing was avoiding traffic pollution because I knew it could cause genetic changes that led to asthma, as a recent study shows. And really, how can you? Nor did I weigh the fish I ate to minimize my baby's mercury exposure. And I happily accepted hand-me-down baby bottles (reuse! save money!), which I later learned (after years of use) contained BPA.

Nope. I ate too much, slept a lot, and ultimately gave birth to a (thankfully) healthy, full-term baby boy. It wasn't until my second pregnancy that I read Sandra Steingraber's excellent book, Having Faith: An ecologist's journey to motherhood. In beautiful prose, she weaves the story of her own pregnancy into a scientific report on the critical moments of those nine months, when developing fetuses are most sensitive to chemical exposures. And I've never looked back.

Not that I regret reading the book. I don't. Or awakening to the toxic world we live in. It's better that my head is squarely out of the sand. But, I do regret that modern pregnancy is such a toxic minefield, a time when fetal chemical exposures can cause significant adverse health effects. In the U.S., we are lucky to have advanced maternal care, eliminating many of the health concerns that can be associated with pregnancy and childbirth. So it is disheartening that the list of don'ts for expectant mothers is impossibly long - and seemingly longer every day as science reveals more and more links between chemicals and our children's health. So what's a pregnant woman to do? It's complicated, and we're not doctors. But if you're interested in taking some personal steps toward an environmentally healthy pregnancy, take a look at our Healthy Home Tips for Parents. Our public health researchers created it to be highly effective but very do-able.

And if you're like me, you'll get all riled up about this and get political. Because really, is this what pregnancy should be? A time to worry whether your neighborhood, your food, your air, your water, your everything could harm your baby because it's toxic? No! Of course not. It's a time of wonder and joy, a slow but exciting journey into parenthood - and chocolate desserts (ok, I'm not totally forgetting sleeping sitting up or the swollen ankles).

So let's change this. Sign The Declaration and join our campaign to pass the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. Because a strong national chemical policy like Kid-Safe would systematically assess the chemical soup we live in, elevating human health right to the top of the evaluation criteria. Where it should be.

[belly photo courtesy of cafemama]