Hidden Toxins to Watch Out for (During Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Beyond)

Hidden Toxins to Watch Out for (During Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Beyond)

Everyday Toxins You’ll Want to Avoid During Pregnancy

Ironically, when you’re newly pregnant, you’re told to watch out for soft eggs, mercury-laden fish and soft cheeses, but there are more threats to your baby (and you) in the form of toxins you’re exposed to on a daily basis.

Why are these not talked about more?! I don’t have the answer to that, but I’m here to help you learn what toxins to watch out for when you’re pregnant and in everyday life.

Pregnant mom holding belly


We don't have control over every toxin we’re exposed to, but you’d be surprised at how much we do have control over! And while we can’t completely eliminate toxins from our lives, but we can do a lot to reduce toxin exposure, which is especially important during pregnancy.

From cookware, food storage, to cleaning products, personal care and makeup, you’re likely being exposed to more toxic chemicals during pregnancy than you think. But armed with just a little bit of knowledge, you can easily take steps to protect your baby and yourself from toxic chemicals.

Just take it step by step and you’ll have a healthy pregnancy and home in no time!

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What Toxins to Avoid While Pregnant?


 Tattooed hand holding water bottle


What is BPA?
BPA, aka bisphenol-A, is one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide. It’s used in plastic bottles and food storage containers, but also in metal food cans, water pipes, electronics and a variety of other plastics, including children’s toys.

Why is it dangerous and what does the research say?
It’s known for its hormone-disrupting effects.

BPA is harmful to your child’s reproductive system, may affect your ability to breastfeed, is known to impact blood sugar (and therefore increase you and baby's risk for diabetes), and may be a risk factor for both miscarriage and preterm births. Some research also shows links between BPA and ADHD and other behavioral problems.

More than 92% of urine samples form United States residents are positive for BPA and it’s been detected in amniotic fluid, placental tissue, cord blood and breast milk. One study even found 5-fold HIGHER levels in amniotic fluid, which suggests that babies are being exposed to more BPA than previously believed.

Do you already buy BPA free products? You should know...one of the most common alternatives developed by chemical companies is BPS. Even very low level exposure to BPS has also been shown to disrupt hormone levels and embryo development similar to BPA.

What’s it found in?
Your main source of exposure to BPA (and BPS) is from heating food in containers that have BPA and using plastic water bottles left in a hot car.

BPA is also used as a thin coating on thermal paper (aka grocery receipts or airplane boarding passes.) After handing receipts for even a few seconds, BPA levels spike in your blood. The longer a receipt is held, the more BPA is absorbed into your bloodstream. Not so “fun” fact: Using hand sanitizers before handling receipts enhances the BPA absorption thank so the presence of “dermal penetration enhancers” in these products. Yikes!

Ok, so you're likely familiar with the dangers of BPA, but have you heard of Phthalates?

What are Phthalates?
Another group of potentially harmful chemicals used in plastics, which contribute to the flexibility, transparency, and durability of a variety of products.

Why is it dangerous and what does the research say?
In a study of phthalates exposure among two groups of pregnant women (in New York and Poland), 100% of participants had detectable levels of phthalates. One hundred percent. In studies on rats, exposure to phthalates resulted in hormonal changes and birth defects. In both lab animals and humans, phthalates have anti-androgenic effects, meaning they can block the effects of certain hormones, like testosterone.

Brain development, particularly in boys, can also be affected by prenatal exposure to phthalates. According to one study, these detrimental effects on mental and intellectual development persist into later childhood (even at age seven.) Exposure to phthalates is also inked to an increased risk of preterm birth.

What’s it found in?
They're added to many products inducing lotions, hair sprays, nail polish, sealants, insect repellants, and fragrances, vinyl flooring, hoses, curtains, plastic wrap, plastic bottles and plastic bags.

In some cosmetics and perfumes, phthalates can be up to 50% of the products.

The main way we’re exposed to phthalates is through food products (via transfer from food packaging), off-gassing of phthalates (inhalation) and direct absorption through the skin.


pile of makeup products on counter


Parabens...the newest dirty word. Or maybe you've been told parabens are a totally safe and necessary preservative? Preservative yes, safe not so much.

What are Parabens?
Similar to phthalates, parabens are most common in cosmetics and other personal care products. Parabens are a group of synthetic compounds that are often added to lotion, makeup, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, medications, and even certain food products to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungus, and other microbes.

Why is it dangerous and what does the research say?
Parabens are known to disrupt hormone metabolism in the body by mimicking the action of estrogen. Some studies have linked them to reproductive problems, which led the European Union to ban certain parabens in 2014. In the United States and many parts of the world, parabens are still widely used.

Pregnant women who use lotion have urine paraben levels up to 216% higher than women who don’t use lotion. And I'm guessing most of us are using lotion to with hopes of preventing stretch marks? I know I did. Shampoo, conditioner and cosmetic use is also linked to higher paraben levels.

Exposure to parabens in utero is linked to higher odds of preterm birth growth restriction (low birth weight and body length). It also affects sex hormone levels (like estrogen) and thyroid hormone levels in pregnant women and may impact fetal brain development.

What’s it found in?
Read labels on cosmetics and personal care products. Avoid methylparaben, ethylparaben, proplyparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and other parabens. Search the EWG for safe alternates.

Ditch deodorant or opt for a natural version. Use natural oils as lotion, such as coconut oil, shea butter, tallow balm, etc. Use less makeup or opt for products that don’t require preservatives, such as mineral-based powder foundation.

Opt for preservative free products and avoid plastic packaged cosmetics whenever possible.


produce at the grocery store


What are pesticides?
Pesticides are only used not only in agriculture or to kill weeds but they encompass a wide range of chemicals, including insecticides (kills insects), fungicides (kills fungus), herbicides (kills weeds) and rodenticides (kills rodents.)

The major classes of pesticides are organochlorines, organophosphates, carbamates, pyrethroids, and triazines.

Although pesticides are a convenient solution to common pests, they can be dangerous to pregnant women.

Why is it dangerous and what does the research say?
Maternal exposure to pesticides is linked to the following problems in their babies: urogenital malformations, infertility, semen quality impairment, and testicular, prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer.

Researchers say children exposed to organophosphate pesticides, both prenatally and during childhood, may have difficulties performing tasks that involve short term memory, and may show increased reaction time, impaired mental development or pervasive developmental problems.

Because it can take decades for scientists to fully understand the health effects of these chemicals, modern pesticides are not necessarily safer. Glyphosate for example, was praised for its low toxicity, but after decades of research, scientists now believe glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

Glyphosate is most widely used in Roundup. It's commonly applied in the fields of genetically modified crops that are specifically engineered to withstand heavy applications of glyphosate (such as corn, soy and canola.) Glyphosate residues accumulate in crops.

Glyphosate harms healthy gut bacteria and promotes the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the intestines. Glyphosate can also reduce your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, especially minerals, like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Research has found that Roundup, is more toxic than glyphosate alone, which is raises concerns for people who regularly eat food that are sprayed with Roundup (non-organic soy, corn, canola, grains and legumes) or those who use Roundup in their yard.

What’s found in?
If possible, buy organically-grown produce or purchase directly from local farmers who don't use pesticides (at minimum buy organic/pesticide free produce for the “Dirty Dozen”). Avoid GMO, genetically-modified foods, as these tend to have higher pesticide residues, especially for glyphosate (corn, soy and canola.)

Eat pasture-raised meat, eggs, and dairy (pesticide residues in commercial animal feed accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals fed corn/soy.)

If you drink coffee, buy USDA Certified Organic or Rainforest Alliance approved. Many harmful pesticides that are illegal in the US are still used in countries that grow coffee.

Buy organic grains and bean/legumes. Avoid soy, which has some of the highest allowable glyphosate residues. Steer clear of vegetable oils.

Don't spray pesticides in or around your home/garden. Avoid the use of chemical insect repellent and insecticides.


pans with eggs frying


What are PFCs?
Non-stick pans exploded in popularity alongside low-fat dietary guidelines because nothing sticks to the pan even without added fats/oils. Unfortunately, the chemicals needed to make up the non-stick surface on these pans are highly toxic.

Made of a chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that, when heated beyond 325 degrees F or when scratched, begins to release another chemical called perfluorooctanoate (PFOA). You’re releasing chemicals into your food and the air you breathe when you cook with them.

It can take up to 4-5 years for your body to metabolize and excrete perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs.)

Why is it dangerous and what does the research say?
These chemicals are known endocrine disruptors, affecting both reproductive hormones and thyroid hormones. PFCs are detectable in the blood of nearly all pregnant women.

Risk factors are low birthweight baby, impacted growth of baby’s organs and bones, birth length and head circumference. Higher rates of preeclampsia have been found in women highly exposed to PFCs. Exposure to PFCs can impact thyroid function in newborns, which can interfere with your baby’s brain development.

What's it found in?
PFCs are found in a wide range of products including stain-resistant and water-resistant coatings (carpets, clothing and upholstery), pain, and even food packaging. Avoid the use of non-stick pains and kitchen utensils (opt for cast iron, stainless steel, glass or ceramic cookware.) This includes bakeware, such as cookie sheets and muffin tins. Strictly avoid Teflon cookware.

Eat less microwave popcorn, prepackaged food (canned meat, hot dogs, chips), microwave dinners, and fast food (French fries, chicken nuggets), as the packaging transfers PFCs into the food. Avoid using stain-resistant or water-repellent sprays (decline optional stain treatment on new carpets and furniture.) Buy clothing without theTeflon, Scotchgard, or Gore-Tex tags.

Don’t use household chemicals or personal care products with the words “fluro” or “perfluoro” or PTFE” in the ingredients list. Computer cleaners are common offenders (which often use 1,1-difluoroethane.) Check with your local water source to ask about contamination with PFCs. Some water filters, like Berkey filters can remove PFCs.


woman holding toothbrush with toothpaste on it


What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a non-essential mineral, meaning your body has no nutritional requirement for it. You may be familiar with its use in preventing cavities, but you’ll be surprised to know that a 2015 Cochrane review of over 155 studies on water fluoridation found there wasn’t enough evidence to show it was effective at preventing cavities.

But this isn’t about cavities, this is about your pregnant body and what fluoride can affect.

Why is it dangerous and what does the research say?
Several systems in the body are highly sensitive to fluoride, including the bones, thyroid, kidneys and brain and fluoride is known to cross the placenta. Children conceived and raised in areas with low levels of fluoride in the drinking water have significantly higher IQs compared to children from areas with high levels of fluoride in the drinking water.

Excessive fluoride in pregnant women may possibly poison and alter enzyme and hormonal systems in babies causing knock-knees, bowlegs, and saber shins develop when walking begins.

What’s found in?
Use fluoride-free toothpaste, mouthwash and dental products. Avoid dental procedures that use fluoride (fluoride gels, varnishes or rinses.) Continue to see your dentist during pregnancy, however request that fluoride free products be used for dental cleanings.

Filter your tap water using a water filter known to remove fluoride, such as a Berkey filter.

Opt for organically-grown grapes, since many vineyards use a fluoride-containing pesticide called cryolite.

If you drink tea (black, green, white or oolong tea), go for the highest quality available. Consider switching to white tea, which has the lowest fluoride levels, or try rooibos tea (red teas.)


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crinkled aluminum foil



What is aluminum?
For many of us, aluminum is a regular part of our lives without us even thinking about it. Found in aluminum foil, aluminum cookware, antiperspirant deodorants, antacids, and even baking powder, it might be something you come in contact with or ingest on a weekly basis.

Why is it dangerous and what does the research say?
You don’t need or want aluminum in your body. Aluminum crosses the placenta. Decades of research has shown that aluminum can accumulate in the brain and can cause a range of neurological problems (such as Alzheimers disease in adults.)

In mice exposed to aluminum via their mother’s diet during pregnancy and through lactation, researchers note “significant and dose-dependent disturbance in the levels of neurotransmitters” including serotonin and dopamine. The mouse pups also had deficits in sensory motor reflexes, movement behaviors, and weight gain.

Certain vaccines are another route of exposure, in which “up to a milligram of aluminum is injected along with an antigen or allergen.” As pharmaceutical companies continue to phase out mercury from vaccines, higher amounts of aluminum adjuvants are being used. Topical and injected aluminum are significant contributors to overall body aluminum given they bypass your digestive tract and instead enter your bloodstream directly.

There are many doctors who feel the risk of contracting a disease outweigh the risks associated with heavy metal exposure. Knowledge of the ingredients in vaccines, including heavy metals, is a fundamental part of informed consent.

What’s found in?
Antiperspirants and antacids are the most common contributors of aluminum we're exposed to.

Ditch aluminum foil—both for cooking and storing leftovers. If you absolutely have to use it while cooking, prevent it from coming in direct contact with your food by putting a sheet of parchment paper in between the foil and your food. Be especially careful with acidic ingredients (such as tomatoes, lemon, vinegar, yogurt, etc.) as these increase the amount of aluminum transfers to your food.

Avoid the use of aluminum pots and pans, including aluminum espresso makers. Many cookie sheets and cake pans are made of aluminum. Recycled metal pots,  like you might find at a thrift store, may contain high levels of aluminum.

Check ingredient labels on deodorants/antiperspirants, buffers aspirin, sunscreens, makeup (especially primers), and facial scrubs. Search for word “alum” or “aluminum salts” in the ingredients.

Eat fewer soy products.

If aluminum is relevant to your decision on prenatal vaccinations, review the vaccine package insert to determine which ones contain aluminum.


two raw fish on a plate


What is it mercury?
Mercury is a well known to be a neurotoxin and virtually every pregnant women knows it should be avoided. Mercury crosses the placenta.

Why is it dangerous and what does the research say?
Some research has found that mercury “accumulates in fetal tissues resulting in fetal blood concentrations that typically exceed maternal levels”. Prenatal mercury exposure is linked to neurodevelopment problems and lower cognitive performance during childhood.

Decades of industrial use have resulted in mercury contamination across the globe, contaminating oceans and waterways with mercury, where it continues to work its way up the food chain and accumulate in certain species of fish and seafood.

What’s it found in?
Fish. But before you swear off fish entirely, remember that a) only certain types of fish are high in mercury, and need to be entirely avoided (swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish) and b) just because fish may contain mercury doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily absorb it.

This is because most fish contains high levels of selenium, which can help counteract the toxicity of mercury, along with omega-3, iron, vitamin B12 and iodine content, may explain why higher fish intake in pregnancy, despite mercury exposure, is associated with better child cognitive scores at age 3. These benefits last far past toddlerhood. In a study of nearly 12,000 women and their children, those who ate more than 12 oz of seafood per week (not less) during pregnancy had children with better cognitive outcomes from birth through age 8.

Researchers concluded that the “risks from the loss of nutrients were greater than the risks of harm from exposure to trace contaminates in 12 oz seafood eaten weekly". The benefits outweigh the risk for eating most types of fish.

Interestingly, while everyone obsesses over fish, studies have found that amalgam fillings (commonly called silver fillings) may be a stronger contributor. See your dentist about getting those removed PRIOR to pregnancy, if possible.


mom holding newborn baby


So there you have it! I hope this wasn't too scary. You deserve to know what toxins to avoid and watch out for during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and beyond.

To avoid overwhelm, just take it step by step and you'll be able to remove toxins from your life gradually. And if you already had your baby and didn't have this information? Just know you did the best you could with the information you had at the time and you can take what you know now and make changes as you go forward.

I'd recommend starting by removing toxin exposure from your consumables: cookware, food storage, to cleaning products, personal care products and makeup and do one area at a time. I personally started by replacing my plastic dishes and storage. Then later I swapped out my pots and pans. And eventually I switched out my skincare and cleaning products. 

You got this mama!

For more pregnancy, postpartum and mom life tips, drop your email here to never miss a thing!

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