especially your ﬁrst, upends your life in unexpected ways. Motherhood looms and
you’re madly trying to ﬁgure out how to give your baby the healthiest start. So
it’s no surprise when you also ﬁnd yourself evaluating the health of the world
your infant is about to enter.
universal, in my experience,” says Gina Solomon, M.D., M.P.H., associate
director of the pediatric environmental health specialty unit at the University
of California, San Francisco, and senior scientist with the Natural Resources
Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental action group. “Women are confronting
some critical decisions when they’re pregnant.”
five ways you can do right by yourself, your baby and the
planet when you’re
Wise To Water. One of the
first rules of a healthy pregnancy is to stay hydrated. “You need to drink for
two while you’re expecting,” says Solomon. Your blood volume increases dramatically,
and you’re flushing two people’s waste through your kidneys. Meanwhile, your
fetus constantly swallows the amniotic fluid and pees in it. To keep
“refreshing” that fluid, you need liquids throughout the day.
How to get
them? Probably not from swigging lattes because caffeine is a real concern:
Drinking more than 300 milligrams daily, or the amount in about two cups of
java, has been associated with miscarriage in early pregnancy. Nor should you
rely on diet sodas, which contain artificial sweeteners, or regular sodas and
processed fruit juices, which are loaded with sugar calories.
old-fashioned water is best, and you shouldn’t buy it in plastic bottles. Such
water is seldom cleaner than tap, it’s not as well-regulated, and some brands
are municipal water with a fancy label. Worse, in the U.S., only a quarter of
those bottles are recycled!
are especially vulnerable to water-borne contaminants, however, and because no
water is perfectly clean, you’ll probably need a kitchen filter. But before you
buy one, learn what’s in your tap water. “City dwellers usually find that a
carbon filter, such as a Brita or PUR pitcher or faucet attachment, is
adequate,” says Solomon. If you live in an area with serious water-quality
problems, as in some rural regions, you may need a filter that can handle such
pollutants as pesticides, solvents and arsenic. “Reverse osmosis devices work,
but they’re expensive and waste water, so check to see if they’re necessary,”
Solomon says. Call your water utility, or visit its website for a look at its
consumer confidence report (CCR). Read what it says under “detection” to see
which contaminants are found in your water. Lead levels can vary dramatically
from house to house, so you also might want to test for lead.
drink plenty of safe water:
YOU are less likely to suffer from
constipation, fatigue, hemorrhoids and bladder infections. Being well-hydrated
also prevents water retention.
YOUR BABY is exposed to fewer water-borne
contaminants and toxins. Because dehydration can cause contractions, the risk
of premature birth is lower.
PLANET will be less
polluted, with fewer plastic bottles floating in its rivers and oceans.
The Fresh Stuff. At first
glance, the ideal green diet looks simple: Choose what’s organic, in season and
locally grown. “But that’s not always possible, especially if you’re pregnant
during winter in the Northeast,” says Elizabeth Ward, R.D., author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During & After
“You need to strike a balance between saving the Earth and eating what’s right
for you and your baby.” That means focusing on fruits, vegetables and grain
products fortified with folic acid and iron, cutting back on processed foods
and upgrading to environmentally sustainable foods when you can.
tremendous benefits to eating organic foods during pregnancy,” says Ward.
They’re grown without pesticides, and some studies even show they’re higher in
nutrients. Locally grown, seasonal foods may also be more nutritious, if only
because they’re fresher—and, the Earth also benefits, as fewer fossil fuels are
used to transport them. But organic can be costly, and not everyone can get
herself to a farmers market where local food is plentiful.
to eat healthy foods that are conventionally grown than to skimp on them
because you’re afraid of how they’re produced,” Ward says. “No prenatal supplement can supply the phytonutrients you get from fresh fruits and
vegetables, even if they come all the way from Chile.” Or you can go organic
only for produce that otherwise would test high on the pesticide scale, such as
apples, peaches and bell peppers.
daily protein in an eco-friendly way is another challenge. Many fish that are
great sources of protein—and of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega-3
fatty acids essential to fetal brain development—also contain mercury, a heavy metal that can endanger a fetus.
Experts recommend you eat fish no more than twice a week; small, low-mercury
species, such as salmon, sardines, mussels, anchovies and oysters, are best.
Boost your omega-3s with other foods rich in fatty acids, including walnuts,
canola oil and flaxseed, and with fish oil supplements or vegetarian
supplements produced from algae.
attention to your meat purchases. You can trust that certified organic beef and
poultry come from animals that were raised on 100 percent organic feed and were
never given hormones or antibiotics, but you’ll pay more for the privilege,
Ward says. Locally produced milk, meat and poultry are fine, as long as the
dairy or farm has a reputation for cleanliness. Or you can cut back.
Industrial-scale meat production contributes to 18 percent of the world’s
greenhouse gases—even more than transportation! If you limit meat consumption
for health or environmental reasons, add more beans, legumes and nuts to your
diet, along with eggs from locally raised chickens.
YOU find it easier to keep your weight gain
at the recommended level, which lowers your risk for gestational diabetes, high
blood pressure and a too-big baby.
YOUR BABY is exposed to fewer pesticides and
drug residues, a gift to his or her developing neurological system.
less global warming, and fewer harmful, toxic chemicals used to farm
conventionally grown foods will poison our natural world.
Your Car. With few
exceptions, such as scuba diving, you should be able to continue to exercise as you did before pregnancy,” says Raul Artal, M.D., chairman
of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at Missouri’s Saint Louis
University School of Medicine. But you’re not excused if your pre-pregnancy
workout was punching the TV remote. Previously sedentary women who start
exercising while pregnant do just fine; and prenatal exercise is not only safe, it improves pregnancy outcomes, partly
because it helps control weight gain.
say it’s leisure-time activity that benefits pregnancy, not physical labor done
at work. Gardening helps maintain flexibility and build strength; walking,
running, swimming, hiking and biking boost aerobic capacity. “With any exercise
that requires balancing, such as biking, there is risk of falling,” notes
Artal, a prenatal-exercise expert, so pay attention to your balance, which
usually becomes an issue at about four months.
American moms-to-be are largely on their own in the search for safe, convenient
exercise venues. “If you look at Scandinavian cities, like Copenhagen, the bike
lanes are wider than the car lanes,” says Artal. “Some of our U.S.
neighborhoods don’t even have sidewalks.”
walking remains the perfect prenatal exercise—a moderate-intensity and low-impact activity that requires no
equipment beyond good shoes. And it can be a gift to the planet when your
stroll to the store replaces a car trip; a four-mile round-trip walk will keep
about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air. Some studies have found that if
people nationwide got their recommended daily exercise by walking instead of
driving, we could reduce our oil consumption by up to 38 percent. So once
you’ve found your route, get outside regularly for a brisk walk. Sunshine will
boost your vitamin D levels (very important during pregnancy), and believe it
or not, outdoor air is less polluted than the air inside the average American
YOU stay leaner, sleep better,
have better posture and feel less stressed. You may suffer less morning
sickness, fatigue, backache and joint and muscle pain, and your pregnancy is
more likely to be complication-free.
YOUR BABY is less likely to be born too big and
is more likely to be lean, have better cardiovascular function and show fewer signs of
stress during infancy.
PLANET absorbs less
global-warming carbon every time you walk or cycle in place of driving the car
or using an electric-powered exercise machine.
Clear Of Toxins. A glass of
champagne may be verboten during pregnancy, and secondhand smoke annoying, but
few of us would consider them full-fledged toxins. We would be wrong. “Tobacco is weirdly similar in its makeup
to diesel exhaust,” says Solomon, “and drinking alcohol produces some of the
same birth defects as exposure to industrial solvents.”
your daily habits can prevent exposure to many common environmental hazards. A
strong-smelling chemical, especially if it triggers morning sickness, is a red
flag. “Listen to your body,” says Solomon. “Stay away from concentrations of
trucks and buses, and avoid such solvents as vapors from dry cleaning and
gasoline.” Because solvents are so easily absorbed and inhaled, ask your
partner to pump the gas and visit the dry cleaner. Avoid home improvement
projects that emit fumes from solvents, such as refinishers or glues; if you
must paint, choose low- or non-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and ask
someone else to wield the brush. Most moms-to-be know that pesticides can be
harmful, but “studies show that a surprising number apply them to their pets,”
says Solomon. “They’ll use a flea shampoo on the dog or put a flea collar on
the cat.” Instead, she recommends, “Look for nontoxic shampoo, wash the pet’s
bedding in hot water and use a flea comb to check for pests.”
hazardous chemicals include bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone disruptor found in
plastics, the lining of food cans and even in the coating on sales receipts;
and perfluorinated compounds, found in nonstick cookware, grease-resistant food
packaging (such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes), stain-resistant
fabrics and personal-care products. Don’t buy items like cleaning products or cosmetics that
contain the ingredients “fluoro” or “perfluoro,” and if you must use Teflon
cookware don’t heat it higher than 450° F, and discard it when it deteriorates.
Avoid disinfectants or any cleaning products with such chemicals as
formaldehyde—or with a label that warns: Keep out of reach of children. Even
better: Make your own safe cleaners with vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice.
Finally, keep your home and body as un-perfumed as possible. Air fresheners and
conventionally scented cosmetics often contain chemicals that can alter
avoid toxic chemicals:
YOU reduce your risk for certain pregnancy
complications and, later in life, cancer, thyroid, respiratory and other health
YOUR BABY starts life with a lower “body burden”
of industrial chemicals and has a lower risk for neurological problems. His or her risks for obesity, asthma,
allergies and diabetes will be lower.
because fewer toxins are being introduced into the air, soil and waterways.
Meanwhile, as a consumer, you’re pushing the marketplace to create cleaner and
Your Boobs. Whether to breastfeed may be the most important decision you
make while you’re pregnant,” says Solomon. Study after study has found that
breastfeeding is healthier for both mother and infant from the first latch
through the length of their lives.
to nurse also takes a load off the planet’s shoulders. The manufacturing of
infant formula is an industrial process, and its distribution involves trucking
nationwide. Canning the prepared formula requires the resource-intensive use of
steel, and the cans may be lined with resin that can leach BPA into the
formula. Powdered formula is safer, but you need to decide what kind of water
to add. Some bottled waters contain phthalates or BPA, and depending on where
you live, tap water may contain pesticides, disinfection byproducts or
goodness we have formula because some women can’t breastfeed,” says Solomon,
“but it’s definitely a second choice. While it’s important to acknowledge that
mother’s milk also contains some contaminants, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential hazard.”
YOU lose weight more easily, and lower
your risk for postpartum depression and, later, breast and ovarian cancer.
YOUR BABY will be leaner and less prone to
childhood obesity. Your infant is also likely to have fewer ear infections and
some immunity from common bacterial and viral “bugs.” Breastfed babies also
have lower rates of diarrhea, digestive problems, sudden infant death syndrome
(SIDS) and childhood leukemia.
PLANET absorbs fewer
carbon emissions from the manufacture and transport of formula. Not as many
discarded containers end up in landfills.
better time than pregnancy to think about creating a healthier environment for
your baby and yourself.