Greener Pastures

November 13, 2008 2:27 PM by

By Linda Childers

The color options for expectant moms used to be pretty simple: pink or blue. But many pregnant women, driven by concern for the health of their baby, themselves, and the planet, are now selecting a different shade: green.

Pediatricians agree that pregnancy is a good time to adopt environmentally conscious habits because fetuses are more vulnerable to toxic substances. For example, 2005 study by the Environmental Working Group measured umbilical cord blood for contaminants and found an average of 200 different industrial chemicals.

“Until I was pregnant with my first child, I didn’t understand that it wasn’t just about me anymore—it was about her,” says Lynda Fassa, a mother of three and author of Green Babies, Sage Moms. “We all have a responsibility to protect our children from the risk of birth defects, learning disabilities, asthma, and other medical conditions that can result from using toxic products.”

Tara McLean of Kailua, HI, joined the ranks of eco-friendly moms shortly after learning she was pregnant with her son, who is now 3. Shortly after his birth, she launched momsgoinggreen.com with the assistance of her friend Christine Bonz, a mother of two. Through their website, the moms offer workshops and tips on how families can live a greener and healthier life.

“It’s easy to make simple changes that yield a big difference,” McLean says of her company’s mission. “Our goal is to help other new moms make informed choices on matters that affect the health of their families and the environment.”

Eco Eats
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the placenta can’t shield the womb from all the man-made chemicals that have collected in our bodies. That’s why it’s important for pregnant women to beware of meat, poultry, and fish that may contain harmful toxins such as antibiotics, growth hormones, or mercury; and minimize their exposure to pesticide residues by eating organic fruits and vegetables.

“The World Health Organization estimates that we could prevent more than 80 percent of all chronic illnesses by improving our lifestyles in simple ways, like working to reduce our exposure to environmental pollutants and eating a healthier diet,” says Deidre Imus, author of Growing Up Green: Baby and Child Care and founder of The Deidre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology in Hackensack, NJ.

“Because organic produce is grown without harmful pesticides, it’s a safer choice for moms and babies,” agrees McLean. “It’s especially important to buy the items that have been shown to have high levels of pesticides—such as apples, potatoes, cherries, grapes, and strawberries—organically grown.”

Green Your Body
Experts say it’s not only important to look at what you put in your body, but also what you apply to it. “Sixty percent of what we put on our bodies—in terms of beauty products, lotions, and sunscreens—is absorbed into the skin,” says Fassa, who cites a 2004 British study that found paraben preservatives to be “a cause for concern.”

Fassa suggests carefully reading labels on the bath and body products you buy and limiting or eliminating the use of ones containing parabens. Imus recommends purchasing shampoo that is free of sulfates, a suds-producing ingredient that can irritate skin.

Instead, she endorses natural alternatives, such as shampoos and conditioners with organic botanicals, such as lavender and jojoba oil, and deodorants that don’t contain aluminum. But sticking to products labeled “organic” or “all-natural” might not be enough, because the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate personal-care products the way it does ingestible items.

Tricia Sheehan, of Livermore, CA, a mother of two sons with her third child on the way, says she has become more aware of eco-friendly practices with each pregnancy. Her tip on personal care products: “Before I buy any sunscreens or lotions, I check the safety of the ingredients at cosmeticsdatabase.org, or look to pregnancy-specific skin care lines that take careful measures to screen ingredients for safety, such as Belli.”

Green your Home
If you get the urge to nest and begin decorating your baby’s room, avoid VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from paints, glues, air fresheners, and other similar products, Imus says. According to a study in Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, exposure to air fresheners during pregnancy and within the first six months of a baby’s life was associated with diarrhea and earaches in infants, as well as headaches and depression in mothers.

How you clean is crucial, too. “I use non-toxic and biodegradable household cleaning products such as Seventh Generation, or a mixture of baking soda and vinegar,” Sheehan says. For green cleaner recipes and advice, check out Green Clean, by Linda Mason Hunter and Mikki Halpin.

“Going green may seem overwhelming when you are also getting ready for a new baby,” Imus adds. “But it’s not about throwing away everything in your home, but rather making small changes and conscious healthy choices.”

Know This

You should avoid beauty products with these ingredients:

• Parabens

• Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate

• Propylene Glycol

• Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA)

• PVP/VA Copolymer

• Diazolidinyl/Imidazolidinyl Urea

More Ways to Green Your Pregnancy

• Shop at your local farmers’ market or a nearby farm for fresh, pesticide-free produce. If the farm isn’t organic, ask if they spray their crops—many don’t.

• Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group where you purchase weekly baskets of organic produce directly from a farm. Visit localharvest.org to find farms and CSA groups in your area.

• Try homemade beauty solutions, such as chilled cucumber slices on puffy eyes and plain yogurt mixed with granulated sugar as a facial scrub.

• Share ideas for green parenting and meet other parents who have adopted eco-friendly lifestyles at momsgoinggreen.com or holisticmoms.org.

• Investigate a different kind of care. For some, a green pregnancy also includes using a midwife who can treat pregnancy-related symptoms with natural solutions and use techniques such as massage to soothe them during labor.

Linda Childers is a California mom and freelance writer who frequently contributes to Pregnancy.

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