Protecting your unborn baby from environmental toxins


by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 Healthlink

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Posted on April 3, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 3 at 10:09 AM

Dietitian Deborah Ting makes it a point to always eat healthy meals. Now that she's expecting a baby, she said it's more important than ever.

"There's so many things you hear about that are dangerous for the infant in utero," explained Ting.

As she unpacked her lunch she talked about the healthy options she chooses, including a seafood entree. But while fish is healthy, some varieties contain mercury. Around the house, lead may be lurking in old paint. Chemicals in some plastics, and pesticides pose a risk. She constantly wonders if she's doing enough.

"You get really worried. It's easy to get worried about every little thing," Ting said.

Until now she has found solid information hard to come by.

"There's a lot of controversial opinions. So it's hard to get the facts. It's hard to read a study when that's not your profession," she explained.

Now sorting it out should get easier. Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, of Seattle Children's Research Institute studies the effects of environmental chemicals on babies in the womb. The pediatrician, and Assistant Professor at the University of Washington led a team of researchers who have created new guidelines for prenatal care providers. Those guidelines were just published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.  They summarize sources of toxins, and their health risks, both known and suspected. They outline simple ways for expectant moms to avoid lead, mercury, pesticides and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as phthalates and bisphenol A, or BPA. 

"One of those is through diet, having a diet that's varied with fresh foods as well as local foods when possible, and trying to decrease processed food intake when you can," said Dr. Sathyanarayana.

Other tips include taking shoes off at the door, to avoid tracking in toxins, eating less food from cans, and avoiding handling cash register receipts. Both can leach the chemical BPA.  Avoid plastics with recycle codes #3, #6, and #7. Don't use chemical tick and flea collars, or dips for pets. And be aware some imported cosmetics contain lead.  

Seattle Children's has provided a link to more tips from the new guidelines. Deborah Ting said it's reassuring to know prenatal health providers can now pass along scientific information, summarized in the guidelines, to pregnant women.

"It's good to have a generalized guideline that people can follow, because there's so much information out there," she said.

And when it comes to chemical exposures, the brief window of time before a baby is born may hold a key to lifelong health.

"It may be that you were exposed very very early in life, and you don't see an impact until puberty, or you don't see an impact until later life," said Dr. Sathyanarayana.

Here are highlights from the guidelines on the Seattle Children's website.