Create a Healthy First Environment

Not long after the pregnancy test shows positive, joy can give way to worry. After all, many parents are waking up to the need to take care of the environment. And the womb is really a baby’s first environment. But you don’t have to give up all of your indulgences. Here’s an update on some that are a “go” and others that are a “no.”

Fine to eat

Chocolate – Good news! According to researchers at the University in Helsinki, infants born to mothers who regularly indulged in chocolate laughed and smiled more and were less likely to be stressed by new situations. Indulge guilt-free, but with moderation, since chocolate can contribute to excessive weight gain.

Proceed with caution

Coffee – Enjoy a cup o’ joe in moderation, say the experts at Web MD, the online site for medical info ( Take in no more than 300 mg of caffeine a day — less than three cups. Be careful, however; a cup (8 oz) doesn’t always look like the average cup of coffee since consumers have become accustomed to super-sized beverages.

Hair dye – With little reliable research on this, most doctors suggest you minimize contact with hair dye, especially during the first trimester. And many hair dyes contain coal tar, which is a known carcinogen and is banned for use in dyes in the European Union. Look for it on ingredient labels as FD&C or D&C colors. There are vegetable-based dyes, such as henna, or try highlighting, which involves less scalp contact.

Cosmetics/nail polish – There’s increasing research about the potential dangers of phthalates (reputed to compromise the testosterone hormone in boys), which are in many cosmetics. However, thanks in part to consumer demand, many cosmetic giants have pledged to remove the chemical from their products. Play it safe and choose cosmetics and nail polishes that are phthalate-free. To find out more, visit the Environmental Working Group’s list of personal care products:

Tap water – A study at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University revealed that drinking or showering in water that has been treated with chlorine doubles the risk of stillbirth. The solution? Ensure that your water supply has levels of trihalomethanes (a byproduct of chlorine) that fall into the “safe” category: less than 0.08 milligrams per liter. Better yet, install filters on taps and showerheads.

Steer clear

Certain fish – An average of 630,000 U.S. children are born each year with toxic amounts of mercury in their blood. Recent research has revealed that mercury in larger, longer-lived fish — shark, tuna, swordfish and king mackerel — and farmed salmon is particularly toxic to the nervous system and the developing brain of children.

Paint – Paints contain toxic chemicals, which aren’t good for you and may not be good for your unborn baby, though there are few studies focusing on exposure during pregnancy. Better to let someone paint for you and choose eco-friendly paints without volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Alcohol – While some health-care providers might allow a single alcoholic drink once a week or for a special celebration, others encourage complete abstinence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently emphasized that drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause a baby to be born with birth defects and have disabilities. According to the CDC, there is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to drink while pregnant and no safe time to drink during pregnancy.

As always, it’s best to talk with your health-care practitioner about specific concerns or questions.

Leslie Garrett is mother of three, an award-winning journalist and author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World (and one our kids will thank us for!).

Categories: Family Health, Fit Family Challenge, Health, Health and Development, New Parent, Nutrition, Preg Health & Wellness, Pregnancy