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What to Avoid When You're Expecting

Some common household and beauty products just aren't safe when you're pregnant.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Sara DuMond, MD

Just about everyone who spots your baby bump has some nugget of advice, and that often includes products to steer clear of. But before you toss every cleaning and beauty item in your house, you need to know which warnings are worth heeding and which are misguided. Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, associate professor and director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco, explains which products women legitimately should be wary of during their pregnancy.

Cleaning Products and Pregnancy

Despite what you might have heard, most cleaning products are safe to use during pregnancy -- provided you use them carefully. Clean in well-ventilated areas with windows and doors propped open, wear rubber gloves, and never mix cleaning products such as ammonia and bleach (the smell can make you sick). One product you do need to avoid is oven cleaner. It can be dangerous to breathe, especially in the close quarters of your oven.

Pesticides and Pregnancy

Unless you work on a farm, you probably won't be exposed to enough pesticides to harm your baby. But because pesticides could affect a baby's developing brain and nervous system, it's better to avoid spraying them into the air. If you need to get rid of critters, use insect baits and traps.

Food Storage

Canned foods might be quick and cheap, but cans are often lined with bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in plastics, which can leach into food. Researchers still aren't sure what effect this might have on developing babies. For now, skip the cans. "If you prepare fruits and vegetables fresh, you can avoid the chemicals in food packaging that can migrate into food," Woodruff says.

Beauty Products and Pregnancy

Polishing your nails or dyeing your hair a couple of times during your pregnancy probably won't do any harm. But because you can't always be sure what chemicals are in beauty products or what effects they might have on your developing baby, minimize their use if you can, Woodruff advises.

Everyday Items to Avoid During Pregnancy

Dry cleaning. Commercial dry cleaners often use the solvent perchloroethylene (PERC), which some studies link to an increased miscarriage risk. Hand wash delicates instead.

Your kitty's litterbox. Cat feces contain the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause a serious blood infection, toxoplasmosis. Have someone else do this chore.

Pottery, crystal, and ceramic dishes. Your favorite serving pieces might contain lead. Buy a lead test kit and check them.

Dust cloths. Cleaning with cloths can spread pesticides and other chemicals into the air. Use a wet mop instead.

Expert Tip

"When I was pregnant, I let my nose be my guide when it came to environmental exposures. A woman's sense of smell is heightened during pregnancy, so I used that to my advantage." -- Sara DuMond, MD, FAAP

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD the Magazine." 

Reviewed on August 14, 2012

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