The miracle of pregnancy comes with an enormous responsibility for the healthy development of your unborn child. Some women are consumed by this responsibility. Others may have a total disregard for the health and well being of their fetus. Most women fall somewhere in between. If you are reading this then you probably fall somewhere closer to the serious side.
A developing fetus is highly susceptible to outside influences. Most people know for example, that smoking and drinking can have serious adverse effects on a fetus, some permanent. Unfortunately many women are not as aware of the effects of common household chemicals and how they can affect not only their baby but even their great, great grandchildren.
What can affect a fetus? There is very little that a pregnant women consumes, breathes, or slathers on her skin that will not affect her fetus in one way or another. Some chemicals are clearly dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. An excellent starting point for a pregnant woman is to consider how natural a substance is. If something grew out of the ground it is quite likely safer than something developed in a lab. There are obviously exceptions to this rule such as poisonous mushrooms and certain herbs but for the most part it holds true.
The hard part is not determining what is safe as much as what is unsafe during pregnancy. Many substances have never been tested on pregnant women and their unborn children so the truth is, you may never know what is safe and what is not. So as a conscientious mother you may choose to err on the side of caution and avoid substances that may potentially be harmful to your baby. This is not feasible all the time but it is certainly worth the attempt.
What is potentially harmful to a fetus?
DRUGS & CHEMICALS
First you should evaluate all drug use including prescription, OTC, and illegal. The FDA has Use-In-Pregnancy ratings for drugs based on their known or unknown dangers. Perinatology.com has a fairly comprehensive list of prescription drugs, vaccines and illegal drugs and includes the class and the potential effects on a fetus or newborn.
What chemicals should you avoid if you are pregnant? Honestly, all of them. Some are clearly more toxic to your fetus than others and some may be totally safe but nobody knows for sure. Some of the dangerous chemicals which are proven to cause miscarriage, birth defects, developmental problems, and stillbirth are:
Pesticides, phthalates (found in some plastics, cosmetics, and bath products), paint, carpet, nail polish, gasoline fumes, routine dental procedures, some household cleaning products, polyurethane foam, hair dyes, and tap water (which can contain fluoride & chlorine). Read Pollution in Newborns by the Environmental Working Group to learn more.
You shuold also research your skin and hair care products at skindeep.org. The almost 15,000 beauty products in the Skin Deep database will tell you not only the safety rating of your products but what questionable chemicals your favorite beauty products contain. Skin Deep provides brand by brand comparisons and safety ratings. Search by product name, product type, brand, or even look up the highest concern brands. They will even give you a personalized shopping list of the safest beauty products.
PRENATAL TESTING (prenatal “scare”)
Additionally, prenatal testing carries inherent risks and potential benefits which must be weighed by each couple. In many cases the testing is totally unnecessary and can even result in miscarriage. What is the answer? Educate yourself. Thoroughly research prenatal tests prior to agreeing to them. The Center for Unhindered Living has a number of articles explaining the pros and cons of Ultrasound, Dopplers, Alpha Fetoprotein Test, Glucose Tolerance Test, Amniocentesis, Chorionic Villus Sampling, and Prenatal Rhogam.
If the test is not absolutely necessary then you have the right to refuse to have it done because it could potentially jeopardize your unborn child. Only you can decide if a test is necessary or not based on your physician’s advice, your research, and your instincts. Please do not take a “medical professionals” word for it. As a responsible adult do some research first.
Nutrition, exercise, and mental health.
Proper nutrition means avoiding processed foods, sugar, commercial meat and dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, among others. Soy, wheat, sugar, and caffeine should be avoided.
There are so many books available about pregnancy nutrition and if you need a bit of guidance then by all means get a book. Dr. William Sears has a great page on prenatal nutrition as well. In addition to avoiding negative food items, you need to accentuate the positive. Certain vitamins and minerals are vital to a healthy pregnancy. The RDA of most vitamins and minerals increases substantially during pregnancy. Folic Acid, calcium, and iron are essential. Organic produce should be your best friend. If this is all new to you then you are probably overwhelmed and confused. If you are committed though, making sensible food choices will be second nature in no time.
Lack of exercise generally will not result in direct harm to your baby but it will make your pregnancy and labor substantially more difficult. The increased blood flow from regular exercise will enhance your child’s development and some studies link prenatal fitness with increased apgar scores and mental development. A walking routine or prenatal yoga course is ideal. You certainly do not want to overdo and many fitness routines need to be modified for pregnancy. The key is to avoid inactivity and increase blood flow. So whatever you do, get off the couch and get moving.
Finally, if you are seeking a natural pregnancy, it is very important to avoid stress. Stress has been linked to miscarriage, autism, and other many other fetal developmental problems. Unfortunately it is unlikely you can quit your job and move to an island for nine months so you need to play the cards you have been dealt. In other word if you are prone to stress you can learn to identify your stress triggers and avoid stressful situations. You can also learn how to handle stressful situations once you are in them.
Both meditation and yoga are proven, fabulous ways of lowering stress levels. Counseling may also help with current stressors in your life. Even a ten minute walk has been proven to reduce stress levels considerably. In any event, please do not resort to drugs or alcohol which don’t reduce stress, they only numb you temporarily and they will certainly cause harm to your child.
You may also want to try other stress reducing techniques include biofeedback, EFT, or a mantra such as “This too will pass”. And never underestimate the value of a good friend or family member that you can call if things get rough.
If you are committed to an organic pregnancy you can certainly do it. Having a partner and family who support your decision will certainly help but even without their help you are certainly capable of trusting your instincts and standing your ground. Your body and your baby will thank you.
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