by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff- Executive Director/CEO Healthy Child Healthy World www.healthychild.org
The irony of pregnancy is that the actual 40 weeks is referred to as nine months. This is an especially bitter pill to swallow in the last few weeks, when you may be inclined to remind friends, family and even strangers that, technically, you have been pregnant for 10 months.
But the reality is that the first few weeks, which doctors count as part of the 40, actually take place before you’re even pregnant. This is the time between the first day of your period and conception, and it’s crucial: Once the egg is fertilized and implants, the embryo begins transforming at light speed. At week five—the third week after conception and the fifth of 40 weeks—the embryo is busy forming its brain, spinal cord, heart and other organs.
This is also the time you may start to throw up.
For many of us, that’s not a funny joke. But my point is, before you even know you’re pregnant, your baby is depending on you to create a safe, healthy environment where he or she can grow. That’s why if you’re considering pregnancy—or even the possibility of pregnancy—pre-conception is the place to start.
Healthy Child Healthy World’s 5 Easy Steps are a great roadmap to creating a healthier environment for you and your family—at each and every stage. Here are two that are super important for pre-conception and pregnancy.
There was a time when doctors told pregnant mothers it was okay to smoke and drink alcohol because their babies were protected. Obviously, now we know otherwise—but many women are still misinformed about the dangers of the common contaminants that their fetuses are exposed to. In April, a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found exposure to pesticides posed the same risk in pregnancy as smoking tobacco, namely lower birth weight and earlier labor. The study subjects were not agricultural workers; they were exposed to pesticides primarily through food. Should doctors recommend women avoid pesticides during pregnancy as they do cigarettes and alcohol? We think so.
According to the Environmental Working Group, you can lower your pesticide exposure by 90 per cent simply by avoiding the most contaminated conventionally grown produce: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears.
Confused? Remember, the more delicate-skinned fruits and vegetables tend to absorb more pesticides; typically, you can peel off most of the pesticide residue. For all others, opt for organic whenever possible. And if you like memorizing, conventionally grown produce with the lowest level of pesticide residues include onion, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomato, and sweet potato.
Another recent study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that obesity during pregnancy may increase a woman’s chances of giving birth to a child with autism—by about 67 percent. When asked about theories linking obesity and autism, the study’s author told The Washington Post that excess blood sugar and inflammation-related substances in the mother’s blood may damage the fetal brain.
To ensure a healthy diet, we recommend eating whole, fresh foods as much as possible. Organic is key for the produce we’ve already talked about, but especially so when it comes to dairy and meat.
Unfortunately, when it comes to meat, even organic, free-range can’t protect you from some organochlorine chemicals, such as dioxin, which scientists have identified as the single most potent synthetic carcinogen. These types of chemicals accumulate in animal fat, transfer to our bodies when we eat meat, and can even be passed on to our children when we’re pregnant. So it makes sense to reduce meat consumption, look for low-fat options, trim all fats and skins and cook meats by broiling, so that the fats drain away as much as possible.
Similarly, seafood is the primary way that we are exposed to mercury, a neurotoxin, and PCBs, which are probably carcinogens. Seafood Watch recommends that we choose fish that are ocean-friendly or lower on the food chain such as wild Alaskan salmon, tilapia and mackerel—especially during pregnancy.
You can get key proteins, vitamins and fats from a variety of vegetarian sources such as beans, legumes and nuts.
Overall, eating organic and reducing meat and seafood consumption—even if it’s just once a week on “meatless Monday”—are great steps to think about before you get pregnant.
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