Toxins and Pregnancy
As many of you know, I’m the mother of three. These blessings didn’t come without struggles. I‘ve lived through recurrent pregnancy loss and other complications, which gave me the opportunity to learn more about my own health and vitality. Because of these experiences, I’m passionate about helping other women in this phase of life. If you’re thinking about conceiving, there’s a lot you can do to help with fertility, successful pregnancy outcomes, and the health of your precious babe.
We live in a toxic world where exposures to chemicals and heavy metals are pervasive. They’re in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the personal care products that we slather on our skin every. single. day.
A growing fetus is uniquely vulnerable to mom’s toxic exposures through placental transfer. A 2009 study by the Environmental Working Group1 identified 232 different industrial compounds and pollutants in the cord blood of 10 infants.
Environmental Exposures Before and During Pregnancy
Exposures in the womb initiate problems long before birth. These environmental exposures are linked to lead poisoning, asthma, cancer, neurobehavioral disorders like autism, and more.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology along with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine published a formal committee opinion on this in 2013:2
Yet, this complicated topic doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. Especially when it comes to preconception counseling.
It is clear that one of the most important times to limit toxic environmental exposures is long before conception. Toxins accumulate over years and store in the bones, fat cells, and organs. Depending on a woman’s unique genetics and lifestyle, there may be decades worth of build up. During pregnancy, those toxins can be mobilized and transferred to the growing fetus. Ongoing exposures only add to the problem.
Unfortunately, that problem continues into the postpartum period, as the toxic body burden continues to be mobilized into mother’s milk.
“Bone lead stores are mobilized in pregnancy and lactation for women with prior lead exposure, which is a concern since lead released into maternal blood and breast milk can adversely affect the fetus or newborn.”
A 2008 article in Environmental Health Perspectives,3 published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reads:
“Lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and other potentially toxic metals that are dispersed throughout the environment also have bioaccumulative features and thus are of concern to the nursing infant. The presence of lead and mercury in human milk has been extensively studied.”
How to Prepare Your Body for Pregnancy
Bottom line: Pregnancy and lactation are not the time to detox. If you don’t reduce your body burden of toxins before conception, your baby will be more vulnerable during both pregnancy and lactation.
But it’s important to note that a preconception detox should occur more than 6 months prior to conception. It is less than ideal to mobilize stored toxins just before becoming pregnant.
Many women can prepare for pregnancy by:
- identifying and removing exposures;
- eating a healthy diet with plenty of organic fruits and vegetables and clean protein;
- supporting the body’s own natural detoxification processes;
- using high quality supplements, including a prenatal vitamin with pre-methylated folate (i.e. methyfolate not folic acid). I also recommend high quality fish oil and vitamin D;
- avoiding Tylenol (acetaminophen) which depletes glutathione (the body’s master antioxidant) and has been linked to higher rates of autism.4
Women with conditions suggestive of environmental toxicity (multiple chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, autoimmunity), known toxic exposures, or genetic polymorphisms like MTHFR, may want to work with a functional medicine physician. We have comprehensive tests to measure the toxic body burden and guide appropriate detoxification.