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reducing your toxic chemical exposure during pregnancy

Toxic Chemicals: What to Avoid When Pregnant

When you’re researching how to have a healthy pregnancy you’ll probably see a lot of scary stuff. Unfortunately there can be a lot out there to worry about. We're exposed to a lot of chemicals everyday, and that can mean exposure to a lot of toxins in pregnancy. Here's how to know what to avoid when pregnant, so you can reduce the amount of toxins you and your baby are exposed to.

Toxic Chemicals: What to Avoid When Pregnant

We all know some of the things we’re not supposed to do: smoke (at all, but especially during pregnancy), drink alcohol and excessive caffeine or eat too much seafood, but there are lots of other things you may never have thought of.

Your baby shares your chemical exposure during pregnancy

Everything you’re exposed to, everything you eat and drink, goes into your baby’s developing body. Not only should you make an extra effort to eat wholesome, nutritious food, you need to keep an eye on your surroundings as well. Chemicals can get into your bloodstream and cross the placental barrier, potentially causing problems for your developing baby. These toxins in pregnancy damage the brain and organs. They can also cause endocrine disruption. Your child’s reproductive organs can also be harmed, affecting future generations. Maintaining a non toxic baby environment during pregnancy is very important.

Here’s a quick list of common toxins and what to avoid when pregnant

Lead and pregnancy

Do you live in an old house? The vast majority of Australian drinking water is clean and safe to drink, but if your house was built before 1970 it may have lead piping or have been painted with lead paint that has contaminated the garden. If you’re concerned about lead you can use a lead test kit to check, and call in professionals to deal with any problems you might find.

Nail polish and pregnancy

Yes, nail polish. Many nail polishes are highly toxic, containing chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate, which may affect baby’s lung, liver and kidney function. The atmosphere in your average nail salon is a toxic chemical stew – the last thing you need during your pregnancy. You can get your nails done during pregnancy - just ask your nail salon if they're using non toxic nail polish. If they're not, don't despair. You can give yourself a nontoxic mani/pedi using safer nail polish and take care of your nails naturally.

The nursery: painting when pregnant

I know, I know – fixing up baby’s nursery is an ancient instinct. But that doesn't mean that you have to do it yourself. Get your partner to do the painting while you're pregnant, or call in the professionals.

Use non toxic paint in the nursery

First, don’t refinish any furniture, or do anything that requires dealing with paint thinner. Only water-based paint is safe, and even then it’s best to use natural paints that have low VOCs, and provide plenty of ventilation. There are several Australian companies that make lovely natural house paints for a very reasonable price. Of course, the best way to avoid all toxin exposure is to pick the colours and then have someone else do the actual painting. You can supervise from another room. Use safe, low VOC paints, and keep the doors and windows open for as long as you can to give the paint a chance to off-gas.

Choose your furniture carefully

Many furniture pieces have tons of chemicals:

  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) can interfere with thyroid function in children and adults. They’re used as flame retardants in electronics, upholstery and mattresses, so read the labels before you buy.
  • Perfluorinated organic compounds (PFAS) can cause reduced birth weight and a host of other problems. They’re used to make materials non stick and stain resistant, and can be found in pizza boxes, fast food containers, stain resistant clothes, carpeting and furniture, microwave popcorn bags and on non stick pots and pans.

Use natural furniture if you possibly can. Look for solid wood, rather than laminated plywood or chipboard. Avoid stain resistant clothing, bedding and upholstery. Don’t use any stain resistant spray treatments either. It would be better to use slipcovers for the furniture and easily laundered clothes for you and baby.

Use natural cleaners while you're pregnant

Another important piece of the puzzle when maintaining a non toxic baby environment is using natural cleaning products around the home. Toxic chemicals can build up in the dust in your home, and regular cleaning helps keep the risk down. However, many cleaning products can contain harmful chemicals that you need to be aware of. Use natural, plant based cleaning products from good brands like Ecostore, Abode, Resparkle, and Kin Kin Naturals, to name a few. They'll help you clean up without inhaling toxic cleaning products while pregnant.

Personal care for a healthy pregnancy

Many skin and hair care products contain potentially toxic chemicals. There’s isn’t a lot of research about the safety of their ingredients for pregnant women (for obvious reasons). It’s better to err on the side of caution and go natural whenever you can.

Hair dye

Many hair dyes (even ‘natural’ ones) contain a chemical called PPD (paraphenylenediamine), which causes allergies and may damage the respiratory system. You can use henna (or a natural dye without toxic chemicals) to colour your hair. If you absolutely must, go for streaks or foils that don’t touch your scalp.

Makeup and skincare during pregnancy

Read the labels on everything that touches your skin. You can have a look at the list of ingredients that we avoid here at Hello Charlie. There's a whole heap of chemicals that shouldn't be used by anybody, much less someone who wants a healthy pregnancy. Pregnancy is the perfect time to make the switch to natural beauty and skincare products.


Fragrances can contain toxic substances like phthalates. Perfume companies aren’t even required to list their ingredients, so you have no idea what’s in there – not the best thing for a healthy pregnancy. In general it’s probably best not to use fragrances at all while pregnant (your sense of smell is probably super sensitive anyway). Even essential oils can be problematic, since many can be uterine stimulants.

Go plastic free

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to make hard plastic water bottles, dishes, baby bottles, food storage containers – the list is practically endless. The problem with this wonder chemical is that it’s an endocrine disruptor, even in small doses. Exposure during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage. It may also harm the baby’s reproductive system, possibly even leading to cancer later in life. The best solution (for many reasons) is to go plastic free, or at least choose safer plastics. Go with glass or stainless steel water bottles, reusable produce bags and plastic free food wraps. It may seem overwhelming when you're first pregnant, but every small step that you take can help you and your unborn baby to have a safe, non toxic pregnancy.

Want to get more tips on non toxic items you can use during pregnancy? You can also read on our pregnancy skincare article.  

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