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Get a Head Start on a Healthy Pregnancy

Planning on getting pregnant? This guide to preconception care will help you make healthier choices about avoiding toxins.

Pre-Pregnancy Diet: What About Fish?

Many women worry about mercury in fish. Mercury can harm a baby’s nervous system and may lead to learning disabilities. But you don't want to miss out on the health benefits of fish, either: Fish and shellfish are high in protein, low in fat, and are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. This benefits babies’ brain and vision development, and may reduce your risk of pre-term labor.

You can limit your risk by eating certain kinds of fish and avoiding others. The FDA and EPA advise women who may become pregnant to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, which tend to have higher levels of mercury. They also recommend eating up to 12 ounces a week (about two meals) of fish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp, clams, salmon, pollock, catfish, canned light tuna, or tilapia.

Freshwater fish caught in rivers and streams can have very high levels of mercury. For information on the safety of freshwater fish in your area, check with your state fish advisory. You can also use the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector to help find the safest options.

Preconception and Pesticides

“There is no question that there are causal associations between some -- not all -- pesticide exposures and infertility or pregnancy compromise, including miscarriages and birth defects,” Schettler says. Avoid exposure by using natural pest control methods in your home and yard. The EPA provides information on integrated pest management and beyondpesticides.org offers information on natural pest control methods. According to the American Pregnancy Association, this is especially important during the first trimester of pregnancy, when a baby’s nervous system is developing rapidly.

What about pesticides on your plate? Although there's no proof that eating organic will ensure a healthier pregnancy, it is a great way to lower your exposure to pesticide residues. If you can't go totally organic, Evans recommends consulting the “Dirty Dozen” list put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It lists the 12 most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables.

Pre-Pregnancy Health and Home Cleaning Products

You may also want to think about how you clean your house. Some cleaning products contain solvents that can be hazardous at high levels of exposure. There are a number of natural cleaning products on the market that don't contain harsh chemicals. Look for ones that don't contain harsh solvents, fragrances, chlorine, or ammonia. Or you can make your own. Baking soda can be used as a powdered cleanser to scrub greasy areas, pots and pans, sinks, tubs, and ovens. A solution of vinegar and water can be used to clean countertops, windows, and other surfaces.

Preconception Care: Are Plastics and Dry Cleaning Safe?

Some plastic wrap and containers contain phthalates, which can leach out when heated in a microwave. Although government and industry consider phthalates to be safe, one study found that pregnant women with higher levels of phthalates were more likely to have baby boys with slight changes to their genitals.  

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