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Environmental Health

When you are pregnant, it’s a good idea to look at your indoor and outdoor environments. Harmful chemicals can cross the placenta and affect the brain, lungs, and hormone and reproductive systems of a growing baby. Although we don’t understand all of these effects we know that the fetus and children are more vulnerable because their bodies are developing.

Here are some simple steps you can take to make your environment a healthy one.

Air Quality

  • Choose fragrance-free and unscented products.
  • Vacuum, wet mop and dust regularly with a damp mop.
  • Reduce the indoor use of paints, glues, permanent markers, nail polish and aerosols.
  • Ventilate rooms well; new building materials can off-gas toxic compounds.
  • Keep fuel burning appliances well maintained; have them inspected yearly.Reduce strenuous activity when air quality is bad.

Air Quality Health Index Ontario (Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks)

Chemicals

  • Wash hands with regular soap and warm water instead of antibacterial soaps.
  • Clean windows and floors with vinegar mixed with water instead of disinfectant cleaners*.
  • Scrub clean sinks, tiles, and bathtubs with baking soda.
  • Buy fragrance-free detergents and fabric softeners.
  • Choose a dry cleaning service that doesn’t use solvents.
  • Avoid products with ammonia, bleach, alcohols, turpentine and artificial air fresheners.

*NOTE: Disinfectants may be necessary for diaper change tables and cutting boards, to control the spread of infection and for sewer backups.

Lead

  • Dust your home regularly and remove shoes at the door.
  • Don’t sand, scrape or burn off lead paint in old homes; learn how to renovate safely.
  • Stay away from areas under renovation; the dust created can contain lead and other chemicals.
  • Avoid hobbies that involve lead products.
  • If your home was built before 1950, you may have lead service lines. If your home was built before the mid 1980’s, lead solder may have been used in your plumbing. If so, run cold water at medium flow for a few minutes if water has not been used for more than 6 hours. Your options include having your water tested for lead (private lab), using an approved water filter on your tap that reduces lead, or drinking bottled water.

Paint

  • If painting, use latex paint, that is low in or free of volatile organic compounds (VOC) if available.
  • Ventilate the space well during and after.
  • Paint objects that can be moved outdoors when possible.
  • Avoid oil-based paints and frequent exposure to solvents such as paint thinner or stripper (hobbies).

Personal Care Products

  • Read the labels of products you apply to the skin: avoid retinol and limit use of hydroquinone.
  • Limit dyeing your hair to 3-4 times a year. Wear gloves, apply dye in a well ventilated space and leave it on for the minimum time. If concerned, wait until the 2nd trimester and choose semi-permanent pure vegetable dyes or highlights.
  • Avoid self-tanning lotions if they irritate your skin.
  • Sunscreens are safe. They may lower the risk of the “mask of pregnancy” (darkening of the cheeks, forehead and chin) and skin cancer.
  • Talk with your health care provider if you have concerns about the use of any personal care product in pregnancy.
  • Be reassured that most are considered safe as very little chemical reaches the placenta in amounts that could harm a baby.Pesticides
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well.
  • Buy local produce when in season and if possible organic food.
  • Control pests using natural methods; reduce their food sources, block off insect entry points, and eliminate damp conditions.

Plastics

  • Store food in glass or ceramic containers instead of plastic packaging.
  • Reheat food in glass or ceramic containers – avoid plastic in the microwave, even if it’s labelled “microwave safe.”
  • Air out new plastic items (e.g. shower curtain) before use.
  • Dust with a wet cloth or mop.
  • Use refillable water bottles made of stainless steel or glass.
  • Avoid using products made of PVC (labelled recycle #3) and polycarbonate (labelled recycle #7).

Well Water

  • Test for bacteria 3-4 times a year. The test is free from the Ontario Public Health Lab.
  • Consider testing for nitrates and fluoride, which occur naturally in some groundwater, if you plan to mix infant formula with well water. The test is done by a private lab for a fee.
  • high levels of nitrate in water can cause “blue baby syndrome” in infants under six months by interfering with how the blood carries oxygen.
  • high levels of fluoride can cause white spots or pitting as baby’s teeth develop (dental fluorosis)Review test results with your health care provider.

Creating Healthy Environments for Kids (Canadian Partnership for Children’s
Health and Environment)

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