Love is in the air – and what else?

Millions of couples get engaged on Valentine’s day. Five years ago, my son proposed. This year, my wife and I were invited to two weddings.  Love is certainly in the air.

When couples enter into a committed relationship, the next step is often starting a family, planning to have healthy children who will become healthy, independent adults. This isn’t as predictable now as it was when my parents started their family in 1944, before manmade chemicals started to pollute our world. Now all prospective parents should be planning to minimize the risks these toxins have on unborn babies.

Making a PACT

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives advice to help prevent birth defects. They suggest making a PACT, “a commitment to yourself to get healthy before and during pregnancy.” PACT stands for: Planning ahead, Avoiding harmful substances, Choosing a healthy lifestyle, and Talking with your healthcare provider.

Planning ahead

According to the CDC and many other sources, planning ahead means starting your folic acid supplement at least one month before conception to prevent defects such as spina bifida. But planning ahead also means preparing the body’s internal environment, which is home for an unborn baby starting at conception.

Like most people, your body probably already contains 200 manmade chemicals. When you become pregnant, your developing baby will be exposed to many of them.  Later, they will be in your breastmilk.  Unfortunately, young women aren’t being warned or advised about how to reduce the amount of foreign chemicals in the body.

Avoiding harmful substances

The CDC says to avoid obvious substances such as tobacco, alcohol and street drugs. They provide a link to a brochure entitled, Toxic Matters – Protecting Our Families from Toxic Substances. This is an excellent brochure; everyone should read it. They have other brochures that advise how to prevent exposures at home by using non-toxic personal care products, and substituting your cleaning and laundry products and children’s toys with others that are non-toxic.

They suggest eating organic foods to decrease pesticide exposures. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health, there are associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.

These brochures stop short because they don’t give advice on other contaminants from air pollution, outdoors and in our homes, from fire retardants, stain repellents, building materials, electronic equipment and furnishings, just to mention a few. All these exposures increase the risk for preterm births, cognitive impairment, neurobehavioral disorders such as autistic spectrum disorder, allergies and asthma, deficiencies in lung function, childhood obesity and diabetes.

Choosing a healthy Lifestyle

The advice provided in the CDC brochure is incomplete.  Other than suggesting that pregnant women maintain a healthy weight with diet and exercise, it does not provide guidelines on what to do. Also they do not mention any nutritional ways to push back against the effects of pollution.

Talking to your healthcare provider

The CDC recommends talking to your healthcare provider, but what good is that if he/she isn’t aware of the effects of chemical exposures during pregnancy? Obstetricians lack training and education about prenatal environmental exposures, and less than 20% routinely even ask about it.

In 2013, the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists published a paper aiming to raise awareness about the impact of chemical exposures during pregnancy to encourage the best possible health outcomes.  Last year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated that environmental health topics should be part of their continuing medical education too. The response has been underwhelming. There has been a lack of interest on the part of family doctors in Ontario to attend the accredited courses in environmental medicine by the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

Pregnant women need to make informed choices, but most women have to find the information on their own.  Check out the resources I’ve provided in this post.  Another great resource is the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment.  Download them all for your own use, and make copies for your health care providers. They need to get educated too!

On this Valentine’s day, set a romantic scene without using perfume or chemically scented candles. The only chemistry on this day should be love!

















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