Women

8 simple steps to take today

From the moment you learned you were pregnant, you began doing everything you could to make your body a healthy place for a growing baby-taking prenatal vitamins, avoiding alcohol, drinking plenty of water. But each day we encounter an alphabet soup of environmental contaminants. Of the more than 84,000 industrial chemicals registered for use in the United States, only about 200 have been evaluated for human safety by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While it isn't possible to eliminate every source of exposure, here arc eight easy actions to create a healthier environment for you and your baby.

8 simple steps to take today

1.    Open the windows

The EPA has found that indoor air quality can be two to five times worse than outdoor air quality, which is particularly shocking when you consider that most of us spend 90 percent of our time indoors. But there's a lot you can do to improve the air quality in your home. Avoid using harsh chemicals, insist that smokers light up outside, and use a wet mop or a vacuum with a HEPA filter to keep dust bunnies at bay. If you want your house to smell good, boil a few lemons on the stove. (Commercial air fresheners and scented candles can be loaded with volatile organic compounds and hazardous chemicals including phthalates and even lead.) Most importantly, open up the windows and let in the fresh air.

2.    Eat organic apples

A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found pesticide residues on 98 percent of the conventionally grown apples they tested, making this fruit the most heavily sprayed item in the produce section. Some of the pesticides used are particularly dangerous to developing children. In fact, research has found a connection between higher levels of prenatal pesticide exposures and earlier deliveries and lower birth weights. In addition to apples, items featured on EWG's "dirty dozen" list of most heavily sprayed produce are celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries and potatoes. (Learn more at ewg.org/foodnews.) Whether or not you're eating organic, make sure to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. While you're seeking out healthy foods, include fish that's high in brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids and low in neurotoxic mercury. Good choices include wild-caught Pacific sardines, farm-raised rainbow trout and wild-caught Alaska salmon.

Whether or not you're eating organic, make sure to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them

3.    Wash your hands

We think of hand-washing as a way to get rid of germs, but rubbing your hands together under running water also washes away such nasty contaminants as lead, flame retardants and bisphenol A (BPA). That's important because contaminated dust is constantly settling on our hands, and can be swallowed as we eat or touch our mouths. "People would be surprised how much dust they eat in a day," says Sheela Sathyanarayana, M.D., M.P.H., an investigator within the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital. "It's one of the biggest sources of exposure that we know about." Lint is another unexpected source. Julie Herbstman, Ph.D., Sc.M., assistant professor at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health in New York City, says you should always wash your hands well after cleaning the dryer filter because lint is little more than highly concentrated household dust.

"People would be surprised how much dust they eat in a day," says Sheela Sathyanarayana, M.D., M.P.H.

Researchers who study halogenated flame retardants, chemicals that are used in electronics, home insulation and foam furniture (all of which contribute to household dust) have linked these toxins to a variety of reproductive and neurological problems, including anti-social behavior, reduced 10 and low birth weight. Meanwhile, BPA can collect on our fingers after we handle thermal cash register receipts, which are treated with the chemical. When washing your hands, avoid anti-bacterial soaps, which can contain endocrine-disrupting compounds like triclosan, shown to be dangerous for pregnant women. "The American Medical Association says that regular soap and water works as well as anti- bacterial cleaners," says Sonya Lunder, M.P.H., senior analyst with the EWG.

4.    Scrub with vinegar

Commercial cleaners can be laden with harsh chemicals like ammonia and bleach, as well as with a variety of compounds, such as phthalates, toluene and ethanol- amines, known to be hormone-disruptors, carcinogens, neurotoxins and respiratory irritants. To clean without chemicals, try plain old white vinegar. It's great for disinfecting, dissolving soap scum and fighting odors. You can use it straight or diluted with water to clean floors, toilets, counters, car- pets and mirrors. Other useful, non- toxic cleaners are baking soda and castile soap, such as Dr. Bronner's. A few drops of tea tree oil add anti- microbial power. To learn what's in the commercial cleaners you use and get recommendations for less toxic alternatives, visit EWG's guide to healthy cleaning (ewg.org/guides/cleaners).

To clean without chemicals, try plain old white vinegar

5.    Season with salt

Thyroid hormones are crucial to your baby's cognitive development, and iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormone. But many women don't get enough iodine in their diets, a deficiency that can lead to lowered 10, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders in their babies. Adding to the problem is a chemical called perchlorate, a widespread environmental pollutant that originates in rocket fuel and can now be found in much of the nation's drinking water and in irrigated produce. Perchlorate can block the thyroid's uptake of iodine and has been found to lower the amount of iodine in breast milk, short-changing babies who need the nutrient for their growing brains. Pregnant women should have 220 micrograms of iodine a day, an amount you can easily get by seasoning your food with a half teaspoon of iodized salt or by taking a prenatal vitamin that includes iodine. Breastfeeding moms should up their iodine intake slightly to about 290 micrograms per day, or three-quarters of a teaspoon of iodized salt.

6.    Take off your shoes

It's easy for environmental toxins to hitch a ride indoors on our shoes. That includes contaminants like lead, pesticides, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from coal-tar pavement sealant, all of which can affect your baby's developing brain. One EPA-funded study also found that weed killers from lawns could be tracked into the house as long as a week after the chemical was applied. Carpets in particular tend to trap tracked-in contaminants in their fibers. Make it a habit to leave your shoes by the door and change into a comfy pair of house slippers. (You can even keep a basket of slippers at the door to offer guests.)

Make it a habit to leave your shoes by the door and change into a comfy pair of house slippers

7.    Use glass or ceramic dish

Plastic is convenient, but it breaks down over time. When it does, its chemical components can leach into our food, exposing us to endocrine disruptors like BPA and phthalates. Heating plastics accelerates that process, which is why you should never microwave in plastic or use plastic to store, stir or serve hot food. Drinking fresh water is important while you're pregnant, so make sure your water bottle is made of glass, stainless steel or BPA-free plastic. Use glass containers to store leftovers and limit your plastic ones to those with the chasing arrow logos showing the numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5.

8.    Kick the cans

The chemical BPA is used in the linings of many food and drink cans, and has been associated with neurological, reproductive and behavioral problems in children who were exposed to it in the womb. Replacing canned foods and drinks with fresh or frozen ones is an easy way to eliminate a major source of exposure. How big a difference can it make? A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who ate a single serving of canned soup for five days in a row had 1,000 times more BPA in their urine than people who ate homemade soup.

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