Seven Ways to Reduce Exposure to Environmental Toxins During Pregnancy

Industry: Healthcare

Intermountain Healthcare experts offer suggestions for women to limit risk while pregnant.

Layton, UT (PRUnderground) December 9th, 2022

When women find out they’re pregnant, it seems to change everything. Suddenly they’re thinking not just about themselves, but about the baby they’re carrying. They may have questions about what substances or environmental exposures may be harmful to them or their baby while they’re pregnant.

There’s the usual medical advice about avoiding substances like alcohol or illegal or prescription drugs or smoking or vaping when pregnant. These substances can cause the fetus to have mental or physical developmenta issuesl  or can increase the chance of miscarriage, preterm labor or sudden infant death.

But, now it seems many people are much more aware of their environment and the products they use. When a woman is pregnant, that adds an additional layer of wondering what over the counter medications are safe to use, and if chemicals or poor air quality could cause harm to her or her baby. It’s very important for pregnant women to check with their doctor or midwife, because many over-the-counter medications should be avoided during pregnancy.

“When we think about toxic exposures during pregnancy, some things can be somewhat harmful to mom, but often we’re typically more concerned about the effect of the exposures on the developing fetus,” said Analiesa Leonhardt, a certified nurse midwife with Intermountain Layton Hospital.

Because there are so many toxins in the environment or in products people use, it can be overwhelming and impossible to avoid everything.

“A simple strategy is to adopt the mindset that the fewer toxic exposures the better. Reduce your exposure to things that are or could be harmful. One simple rule of thumb is the smell test. If it smells like chemicals, it’s probably not good for your baby,” said Leonhardt.

According to Leonhardt there are several common types of toxic exposures that pregnant women should try to avoid or minimize, especially during the first trimester when the baby’s vital organs are forming or when parents are trying to conceive.

Seven things to do to help minimize exposure to environmental toxins during pregnancy

  1. Use filters and a carbon monoxide detector to reduce and avoid toxins in the home

“Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter can help reduce toxins in the home. For furnace filters, choose one with a high MERV rating if possible. Install a carbon monoxide detector in the home. There are government programs that offer free detectors. Carbon monoxide can pass through the placenta and damage the baby’s organs. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, so it’s essential to have a functioning CO detector in our homes.”” said Leonhardt.

  1. Have home tested for lead or asbestos if it was built before 1978

Lead exposure during pregnancy can affect the pregnancy or hurt the baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system or cause the child to have learning or behavior problems. There are programs to have water or paint tested for lead. Check your home for lead and asbestos, if renovating. If you are re-painting, use low-voc paint in a well-ventilated room.

  1. Check the air quality, especially if exercising outside.

“Go to a weather app and look at the air quality. When it says dangerous for sensitive groups, pregnant women and young children are in that group. Our levels of PM2.5 in Utah have been linked to our high pre-term birth rate so this is a very important to know as we head into inversion months,” said Leonhardt.

  1. Avoid exposure to pesticides

“Avoid spraying pesticides inside the home to reduce pests. Pesticides are designed to damage the tiny, developing nervous systems of pests. If lawns or parks or your work environment is being sprayed with pesticides, avoid contact for at least 24 hours or until the product is dry,” said Leonhardt.

  1. Minimize exposure to chemicals at hair and nail salons

“There are many potentially harmful chemicals in hair and nail salons. Skip the salon temporarily, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy, or treat yourself at home in a very well ventilated area,” said Leonhardt.

  1. Avoid re-using disposable plastic bottles or heating food in plastic or styrofoam

“Plastics can leach into food or beverages and can mimic or disrupt hormonal processes in our bodies. Don’t reuse disposable plastic bottles. Don’t heat food in the microwave in plastic containers or plastic wrap. Heat food in a dish or in glass. Cover the dish with waxed paper or a paper plate. Especially avoid plastics marked #7 and #3. And don’t cook in pans with flaking or cracked Teflon,” said Leonhardt.

  1. Opt for natural cleaning products or keep areas well-ventilated when cleaning

“Strong chemicals can enter our blood stream through breathing in the vapors or contact with our skin. When using cleaning products, wear gloves and keep the room well-ventilated, by opening windows. There are natural cleaning products available or create your own cleaning products with basic things like soap, water, vinegar, or baking soda ,” said Leonhardt.

“The long list of DON’Ts is overwhelming. But eating a well-rounded diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, practicing good hydration, and engaging in regular exercise and getting enough sleep all help the body to fight the daily unavoidable onslaughts of chemicals. Fresh and fruits and vegetables are filled with antioxidants and phytochemicals that help reduce toxins,” said Leonhardt.

Minimize toxic exposures in the workplace

Leonhardt reminds women to talk with their provider about any substances they’re concerned about and to let their  midwife or doctor know about their work environment and minimize their exposure if they work with cleaners, chemicals, or pesticides – whether they work in a factory, warehouse, dry cleaners, salon, or in healthcare or agriculture.

For more information

Mother to Baby is the nation’s leading authority and most trusted source of evidence-based information on the safety of medications and other exposures during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It’s a no-cost information service available to mothers, health professionals, and the general public via chat, text, phone, and email in both English and Spanish. It’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Women’s Health.

The phone number for Mother to Baby is 1-866.626.6847.

Additional information can be found at:

Analiesa Leonhardt, Doctor of Nursing Practice is a skilled provider with Intermountain Medical Group, specializing in Certified Nurse Midwife at Intermountain Layton Hospital.

About Intermountain Healthcare

Headquartered in Utah with locations in eight states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called SelectHealth with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information and updates, click here

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