Within hours of seeing a positive result appear on my pregnancy test, the enormous responsibility of carrying and growing a child had me purging everything “toxic” from my home.
From skin care products and household cleaners to food, paint, mattresses, and linens, it was immediately overwhelming to think about the toxic load my baby might be coming in contact with, especially in utero.
In a 2016 study, researchers tested 77 pregnant women for 59 common chemicals, including:
- polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
- compounds (PFCs)
- heavy metals
The study found that the average number of chemicals in maternal blood was 25 and the average number in umbilical cord blood was 17. More than 90 percent of the samples included at least eight of these industrial chemicals.
In an attempt to limit my exposure and keep my developing baby healthy, I immediately whipped into action to identify potential household toxins and replace them with safer options. Mom goal No. 1: create a healthy, nurturing nest for my growing family!
Step 1: Purging
Find out what’s in your home products
If you’re looking to check the safety of your cosmetics, sunscreens, household cleaners, or food, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an amazing resource.
Their Healthy Living app has a bar code scanner that works directly with your smartphone camera to look up the allergy, cancer, and developmental concerns potentially related to the ingredients in your daily products.
Every product ingredient is ranked by a color and a number scale. Green or 1 is the best, and red or 10 is the worst. Then the product as a whole is given an overall color and number rating.
I started by scanning the ingredients in our bathroom and immediately pulled out all the products rated yellow and red. For the items I needed to replace, I browsed the EWG Verified list to find a green replacement I could pick up at my local health food store or online.
Limit electromagnetic fields
We decided to limit human-made electromagnetic fields (EMF) and take steps to protect our growing baby from them. EMFs are created by everything from the sun to our cell phones, so it’s important not to get overwhelmed. Instead, educate yourself on the types of EMF (each emits a different frequency), and control the controllable.
The low frequency spectrum includes the earth, subways, AC power, and MRIs. The radio frequency spectrum includes TVs, cell phones, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Finally, there’s microwave frequency. This includes microwave and satellite.
My husband and I started charging our phones in another room and on airplane mode overnight. This easy step improved our sleep and eliminated all Wi-Fi-enabled devices from our bedroom.
Second, I purchased a Belly Armor blanket to use at my desk and on the couch to shield EMF radiation from smartphones, laptops, Wi-Fi, and other smart home devices.
Lastly, as tempting as it is to have apps and devices that monitor our baby’s temperature, heart rate, and movement 24/7, we’re opting to limit as many Wi-Fi-enabled baby products from our nursery as possible.
Step 2: Nesting
With the house stripped of chemicals, it was time to fill our nursery with a fresh coat of paint, a crib, new bed, fresh mattresses, and a clean rug. What I didn’t realize was that this remodel would be drastically increasing the toxic omissions in my house.
I was blown away to learn the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor pollution averages two to five times higher than the outdoors. And after certain renovations, like painting, pollution levels can be 1,000 times higher than outdoor levels.
These toxic emissions are caused by the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in paint, furniture, finishes, cushions, and upholstery.
Pick the right paints and finishes
The paint on your walls could be releasing low-level toxic emissions for years. Choose a Green Seal-certified, zero-VOC paint. Paint the walls at least one month before baby comes.
Just last year, the Federal Trade Commission came down on four companies misrepresenting the VOC emissions in their products. So, looking for a third-party certification can help you keep your family safe.
We used the search function on the Green Seal website to find the flat white paint we used in our nursery.
Knowing our little peanut would probably have their mouth all over the wood crib, we opted for a GreenGuard-certified Kalon crib (another third-party verification program for VOC emission standards). Kalon uses a water-based, furniture-grade lacquer that’s nontoxic, low VOC, and 100 percent free of hazardous air pollutants.
Mind your mattresses
We spend almost half our life sleeping on a mattress. It’s also one of the strongest polluters to our home and bodies. The EWG warns that many mattresses are full of chemicals that can pollute bedroom air and harm our bodies, such as:
- polyurethane foam, which can emit VOCs
- chemicals that can irritate the respiratory system or cause other health problems
- flame retardant chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and harming the immune system
- PVC or vinyl covers that can damage developing reproductive systems
What’s worse, crib mattresses are some of the worst offenders. Thankfully, the EWG also offers a mattress guide to help you choose chemical-free options.
A few years ago, we decided to upgrade all the mattresses in our home to Essentia natural memory foam. Essentia is one of only two companies in North America that make latex foam mattresses. They make their mattresses simply by baking hevea milk (tree sap) in a mold.
Essentia is overly transparent with ingredients used. Their factory is both Global Organic Textile Standard and Global Organic Latex Standard certified.
As for our crib, we opted for Naturepedic, a company that not only holds the most environmental awards and third-party certifications, but is also an active voice in mattress policy change to protect our families’ health from unnecessary chemicals, including fire retardants.
Chemicals you should look to avoid are flame retardants. Opt for flame retardant-free furniture and foam products, including sleep mats, mattresses, and bedding.
An Indiana University study found that making the swap to brominated- and organophosphate-free sleep mats in day cares resulted in a 40 to 90 percent reduction in air emissions (depending on the chemical). Researchers concluded they even underestimated the benefits of removing the chemicals’ direct contact with the child.
One way to get around fire retardant policy in vehicle upholstery is to opt for a car seat with a naturally fire-resistant textile, like merino wool. Personally, we registered for the Uppa Baby MESA in merino wool. It’s the first and only naturally fire-resistant infant car seat on the market to avoid any direct contact with our babies’ skin.
Lastly, if you’re buying a new “family vehicle,” leave the doors open and windows down as often as possible to air out the car and rid its gasses.
Pregnancy is a thrilling and wonderful time — and a perfect opportunity to prep your space and make it as toxin-free as possible, for both baby and you!
Kelly LeVeque is a celebrity nutritionist, wellness expert, and best-selling author based in Los Angeles. Before starting her consulting business, Be Well By Kelly, she worked in the medical field for Fortune 500 companies like J&J, Stryker, and Hologic, eventually moving into personalized medicine, offering tumor gene mapping and molecular subtyping to oncologists. She received her bachelor’s from UCLA and completed her postgrad clinical education at UCLA and UC Berkeley. Kelly’s client list includes Jessica Alba, Chelsea Handler, Kate Walsh, and Emmy Rossum. Guided by a practical and optimistic approach, Kelly helps people improve their health, achieve their goals, and develop sustainable habits to live a healthy and balanced life. Follow her on Instagram.