There is more and more evidence that chemicals found in common household items can have serious effects on our health. Some of these chemicals are known as “hormone disruptors,” which can either act like the natural hormones in our body or block our natural hormones and change the way our body functions by affecting our hormonal levels. Although all of us are exposed to these chemicals, unborn babies and children may be more impacted than adults, so it is wise to limit their exposure, especially during pregnancy.
Some of the possible problems caused by these chemicals include:
- Defects in a male baby’s penis and urethra (the tube that goes to the bladder)
- Early puberty for girls
- Increased risk of breast and prostate cancer
- Decreased semen quality in men
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactive disorder
Where are these chemicals found?
Hormone disrupting chemicals are frequently found in household pesticides and fertilizers. They also are present in many plastics, including water bottles, baby bottles and nipples, and the lining of metal cans.
A common one is bisphenol A (BPA). Some of these chemicals are found in cosmetics, especially nail polish, perfumes, lotions and hair spray.
Fire retardants, in addition to being hormone disrupters, have potential neurotoxic (affecting the nervous system) and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) properties as well. Fire retardants are found in items such as baby clothes, strollers and crib mattresses.
What can I do?
It is not practical, or even possible, to completely avoid these chemicals, but you can limit your exposure. Here are some simple suggestions to protect yourself, your unborn child and other children.
- Do not microwave anything in plastic. Heat releases more of these chemicals into the food. Use glass if possible to reheat food. Likewise, do not put hot foods in plastic containers.
- Breastfeed, or use powdered formula. Breastmilk can actually provide protective benefits from the chemicals that babies are exposed to. If you are not able or willing to breastfeed, try to use glass baby bottles, silicone nipples and powdered baby formula. Liquid baby formula contains a larger amount of BPA than powdered formula, and plastic baby bottles and nipples also contain BPA. Always discuss feeding changes with your baby’s doctor first!
- Throw away old scratched baby bottles and infant cups. They are likely to release more chemicals.
- Buy organic fruits and vegetables if possible. Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating or cutting them to help get rid of any pesticides. Peeling non-organic fruits and vegetables can reduce some of the chemical exposure as well.
- Avoid pesticide use around your house and yard, or use natural products such as corn gluten to prevent weeds. Pesticide residue can easily be tracked into the house, and since children often spend a lot of time on or near the floor, they are going to be in very close contact with anything that is tracked in, no matter how clean you keep your house!
If you are interested in more in depth information about the potential risks of chemical exposure, check out these resources:
Shauna Leinbach is a certified nurse midwife at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers.