Are Pesticides and Chemicals Safe When Pregnant?
Whether you’re already pregnant or trying to conceive, one of the questions that come to mind involves the safety of chemicals and pesticides. Are pesticides and chemicals safe when pregnant? Could these chemicals affect my baby? Are pesticides causing my infertility? And finally, how is it possible to limit my exposure to these chemicals when they’re everywhere?
Perhaps the best way to introduce yourself to the topic of chemicals and pregnancy is by watching the TED Talk below.
The TED Talk is based on a documentary created by filmmaker Penelope Jagessar Chaffer called Toxic Baby.
Chaffer herself was pregnant when a scan showed that her baby had a birth defect associated with exposure to estrogenic chemicals in the womb. Unfortunately, her baby did not survive.
During her talk, she invites scientist Tyrone Hayes to share his studies and knowledge on the subject. Chaffer starts the talk by discussing how the rising rates of childhood diseases, such as asthma and autism, may be linked to the chemicals we are exposed to.
Chaffer explains that chemicals can pass through the placenta and into the fetus. Even after a mother has given birth, Chaffer said that chemicals can be passed onto the baby if he or she is breastfed.
“We collect these compounds our entire life and then we end up dumping them into our unborn children,” Chaffer says during her talk.
Here are three chemicals you should consider avoiding during pregnancy.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is banned in the European Union and Canada but is still allowed in the U.S. After studies showed that the chemical mimics estrogen and could harm development in fetuses and babies, the U.S. banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and formula. However, the chemical is still allowed in the lining of canned foods. In fact, a 2016 study found that 60% of canned foods contain BPA.
A 2010 study found that pregnant women who ate canned veggies and pregnant women who worked as cashiers had the highest levels of BPA. BPA has also been linked to fertility issues, heart disease and cancer.
How to Avoid BPA
If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, you should attempt to avoid canned foods, such as canned fruits and vegetables, which contain BPA. Aim to eat fresh or frozen foods or foods that are sold in glass jars. If canned food is unavoidable for you, wash the food very well or choose a brand that is BPA-free. However, it’s worth noting that the substitute chemical in BPA-free cans could have similar effects.
Since BPA can be found in receipt paper, some recommend that pregnant women try to avoid taking the receipt if it’s not necessary. Many water bottles are now BPA-free, so make sure you check the marking that’s usually found on the bottom of the bottle. Glass and ceramic containers can be used to store and reheat food, as opposed to plastic ones.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that is most commonly found in antibacterial soaps. Although the chemical does a wonderful job at killing germs, it can have many dangerous effects on fertility and developing babies.
Studies have shown that triclosan can affect thyroid function in developing babies.
A 2015 study suggested that the chemical might significantly decrease sperm production. A 2016 review concluded that triclosan could possibly be toxic to reproductive and developmental health. The chemical has been linked to several other problems caused by hormone interference.
Luckily, the U.S. government has listened to this research. In September 2016, the FDA banned the use of triclosan in body and hand soaps. However, the soaps could be on shelves for up to one year after the ban was decided. The FDA did not ban the chemical from other consumer products, like toothpaste or baby toys.
Triclosan is still allowed in Canada. Health Canada says the levels we are exposed to do not pose a health risk to most people.
How to Avoid Triclosan
- Avoid antibacterial soaps. If you live in the U.S., this won’t be a choice in a year’s time.
- Read the labels and avoid products that contain triclosan. These could include toothpastes, detergents and cleaning products.
- Avoid toys that contain triclosan. Yes, some plastic baby toys contain this chemical. You can search for toys that are labeled “triclosan-free” or choose toys that are made from other materials such as plush and wood.
Another chemical mentioned in the TED Talk is Atrazine. Atrazine is the second most commonly used herbicide in the U.S. Not only is it used in agriculture to kill weeds, but it also leaks into the water we drink every day. In areas where agriculture is prominent, 95% of drinking water will contain detectable amounts of atrazine, according to the US Geological Survey.
In the TED Talk, Hayes says he was asked to evaluate how atrazine affected frogs. He found that when frogs were exposed to a small amount of this chemical, they developed abnormalities and hormonal imbalances.
After his studies, atrazine was banned in the European Union. However, Canada and the U.S. have re-approved it.
A 2011 study showed that women who had detectable levels of atrazine present were more likely to have smaller babies.
Another study found that children in Indiana were more likely to be born with birth defects compared to the national rate. The study concluded that increased atrazine levels correlated with the increase of defects in the state.
A 2010 study found that pregnant women who were exposed to surface water atrazine and who conceived in spring months (when contamination is highest) were more likely to have babies born with a birth defect called fetal gastroschisis.
Other studies have suggested that there is a link between the chemical and diabetes, autoimmune disorders, obesity and more.
These studies show that atrazine may affect pregnancy, but can it affect your fertility if you’re hoping to conceive? A 2011 study suggested that atrazine exposure is associated with increased menstrual cycle irregularity and low hormones. As we know, if our menstrual cycle and our hormones are out of whack, it could be more difficult for us to conceive.
What about male fertility? In the TED Talk, Hayes explained that the chemical might also affect men. He explained that his colleague’s study found that men who have low sperm count and low semen quality have significantly more atrazine in their urine. High levels can be found in:
- Men who live in agricultural communities (high levels)
- Male field workers (higher levels)
- Men who apply atrazine (highest levels)
Syngenta, the company that makes atrazine, denies that the chemical can cause adverse health effects at normal levels. The company insists that studies show its safety.
How to Avoid Atrazine
If you believe that the studies have merit or just wish to play it safe, there are a few ways that you can limit your exposure to atrazine. Whether you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, it will be harder for you to avoid the chemical if you live around farms where atrazine is used.
Since atrazine contaminating drinking water is often the biggest concern, you can get your water tested in the spring when contamination is the highest. You can also install a water filter on your tap and use it throughout the year.
While there’s debate on whether eating organic is really better, you will be able to limit your exposure to the chemical if you purchase food that was grown without pesticides. You may be able to research reputable brands in your area or ask farmers at your local farmer’s market. Many of these foods may still contain small amounts of atrazine, but it will contain far less than regular vegetables and fruits. Regardless of which fruits and vegetables you buy, they should be thoroughly washed and peeled when possible. Atrazine is most commonly used in cornfields, so avoiding corn altogether is also an option.
Tips to Avoid Any Chemical & Pesticide
- According to The California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, pregnant women who are exposed to household gardening pesticides have a modest risk increase for neural tube defects and heart and limb defects. If you or your partner gardens, you can play it safe by avoiding pesticides altogether. It could also be wise to avoid pest control services unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Attempt to avoid your exposure to pesticides and chemicals before and during your pregnancy. Avoiding these chemicals could be most important during your first trimester when your baby is developing the nervous system and neural tube.
- If you need to use a pesticide in your home, make sure to read the label. If possible, get someone else to apply the chemical for you. Let the area air out and wash all surfaces it may have touched. You can also use alternative ways to control pests, such as mousetraps or sticky traps.
- If you work in an environment where chemicals and pesticides are common, talk to your boss about your options and what precautions you should take to keep your baby safe.
Are you trying to avoid any chemicals during your pregnancy? If so, comment below. If this post made you think about the safety of everyday chemicals, share it to educate others too.