September 25 2013
Carrie L. Lukas
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American Society for Reproductive Medicine are calling on doctors and the government to do more to warn pregnant women about the dangers of chemical exposure. I'd like to see the exact wording of their statement (which didn't appear to be available on either website). I'd hope that it is more tailored and nuanced than the headlines it is generating such as “Toxic Chemicals and Pregnancy Don't Mix.”
On one level, such advice is mind-blowingly obvious: When you are pregnant, best not to tar your roof and eat insecticides by the spoonful. And indeed, the article singles out low-income women who work in farming as among the groups that should be receiving extra warnings, since they may have high levels of exposure to pesticides. Yes, certainly it's sensible for women who are working everyday with heavy doses of chemicals to look into the implications and mitigate any risks.
Yet the problem with their statement is that it invites all women living in modern society to see themselves as surrounded by “toxic chemicals,” from their shampoo and nail polish to a can of tuna fish and spray cleaner. The article suggests that no one knows whether we are unknowingly poisoning our unborn children with each trip to the grocery store, but in reality, these everyday substances have been tested extensively and found to be safe for typical use. (For more, read this by Julie Gunlock on the studies surrounding BPA and phthalates, two of the chemicals that are most frequently targeted for such warnings.)
I take this issue rather personally. As regular IWF readers may recall, I've had four children in the last 8 years and have seen warnings for the pregnant come and go.
I'm still mad at myself for falling for the “don't-eat-tuna-fish” warnings that were standard operating procedure in 2005. That was when the powers that be were convinced that trace levels of mercury in fish like tuna could hurt babies in utero, so we were told to restrict our consumption with pregnant. As a dutiful first-time pregnant woman, I embraced such advice wholeheartedly and rid my diet of tuna entirely.... only to have the guidance reversed shortly before I gave birth. Then I was informed that—oops!—such guidance was actually unnecessary. Worse I was actually doing much more harm to my unborn daughter by not eating enough fish and depriving her of vital nutrients.
So I empathize with all the nervous, expectant moms out there today who are trying to make sense of such a broad warning from a medical group.
Here's some advice that I hope is a tad more useful: Try to relax and use common sense. Don't drink your Lysol or decide today's the day to start stripping your furniture. Take your prenatal vitamins, eat a variety of foods, and try to think a bit more about your diet. But don't make yourself miserable with worry and imagine that everything around you is a threat. Stress isn't good for junior either.
These doctors groups should also pause and consider how their guidance will be received by women, especially after its filtered through an often hysterical media. Do they really think that having women worrying about every bite of apple or every wipe of their counter top is good for their families' health? Don't they know that issuing warnings about everything makes it real easy to tune out all warnings?