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Environmental Hazards

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 a baby’s brain, lungs, and hormone and reproductive systems.

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 cloth.
  • Reduce the indoor use of paints, glues, permanent markers, nail polish, and aerosols.
  • Ventilate rooms well (open windows when you can).
  • Keep fuel burning appliances well maintained and have them inspected yearly.
  • Reduce strenuous activity when air quality is bad.

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

Cleaning Products

  • 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.
  • Buy fragrance-free laundry detergents.
  • Avoid products with ammonia, bleach, alcohols, turpentine, and artificial air fresheners.
  • Choose a dry cleaning service that doesn’t use solvents.


  • 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.
  • Sunscreens are safe. They may lower the risk of the “mask of pregnancy” (darkening of the cheeks, forehead, and chin) and skin cancer.


  • Wash fruits and vegetables well.
  • Buy local produce when in season and if possible, buy organic food.
  • Control pests using natural methods (reduce their food sources, block off insect entry points, and eliminate damp conditions).


  • 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.
  • Use refillable water bottles made of stainless steel or glass.
  • Avoid using products made of phalates (labelled recycle #3) and BPA (labelled recycle #7).


  • Don’t sand, scrape, or burn off lead paint in old homes.
  • Stay away from areas under renovation.
  • 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. You can also have your water tested for lead (private lab), use an approved water filter on your tap that reduces lead, or drink bottled water.
  • Dust your home regularly using a damp cloth and remove shoes at the door.

Well Water

  • Test for bacteria 3-4 times a year. You can pick up a testing kit at Peterborough Public Health.
  • 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)

Creating Healthy Home Environments for Kids: Top 5 Tips – YouTube


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