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Taking prenatal vitamins, eating well and exercise are all vital to a healthy pregnancy, but they are by no means the only things you can do to help ensure a healthy baby. Taking special note of your environment -- and the chemicals and toxins you're exposed to -- helps, too. Since there's no neon signs warning you which fish contains dangerous-to-baby mercury, which plastic chemicals might leach into your food or which products are made wtih banned-in-Europe chemicals, here are six smart tips from the March of Dimes to help you reduce your exposure to everyday risks.
Avoid these types of fish. Fish are an amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and lean protein -- all very healthy for mom-to-be and baby. Unfortunately, fish can also contain mercury, a chemical by-product from industry. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) consuming too much mercury can cause neurological problems. That's why the Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women and nursing moms to avoid mercury-laden fish, such as marlin, orange roughy, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, bigeye and Ahi tuna. Also, limit Chilean sea bass, bluefish, grouper, Gulf mackeral, canned albacore tuna and yellowfin tuna to no more than three 6-oz servings a month. Instead, go for up to two 6-oz servings per week of fish low in mercury, like herring, canned mackerel, oysters, anchovies, salmon, sardines, trout, tilapia, scallops, shrimp, squid, flounder, clams, catfish, crab and pollock. (Be sure to check out this complete list of foods to avoid during pregnancy.)
Nix chemical pest control. Chemical pesticides used to kill insects and rodents can be harmful during pregnancy, possibly leading to miscarriage, preterm birth, low birthweight, birth defects and learning problems, according to The March of Dimes. It's best to avoid pesticides and insecticides in your home, on your pets and in the garden during pregnancy -- especially during the first trimester when the baby's neural tube and nervous system are developing, notes the American Pregnancy Organization. If you need to get rid of pests, go chemical-free -- and have someone else do the dirty work for you.
Get smart about plastic. Plastics are made from phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA). Research has shown that being in contact with these chemicals may be harmful during pregnancy. In fact, gestational exposure to (BPA) is associated with behavioral problems in children, according to a 2011 study in the journal Pediatrics. While Canada the EU (European Union) and Canada have prohibited BPA use in baby bottles, the US still allows BPA in bottles and food packaging. However, as of 2009, phthalates are no longer used in toys or other children's products. To help protect you and your unborn baby, flip your plastic containers over and look for the recycling triangle. If there's a number 3, 6 or 7 inside the triangle, avoid it -- or at the very least don't microwave it or put it in the dishwasher (chemicals can leach out into food when the plastic is heated). Also: Opt for stainless steel water bottles over plastic and look for BPA-free labels.
Rethink canned food, too. Pregnant women should limit their intake of canned foods and drinks, most of which are lined with an epoxy resin made with BPA. According to a 2010 report that found 92 percent of food from metal cans is contaminated with the chemical BPA. That avoid-cans recommendation extends to infant formula, too. While it's still hard to know which cans are BPA-free, the leader of the BPA-free pack seems to to be Eden foods. Check manufacturer Web sites to see their stance -- and opt for other glass packaging if your faves are BPA-laden.
Swap the dirty dozen. A mama-to-be and growing baby-to-be thrive on a diet rich in fruits and veggies. But that good-for-you produce can be drenched in pesticides. To lower your chemical exposure, limit or buy organic versions (if you can afford it) of the 12 most contaminated eats: apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, imported grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce and kale/collard greens.
Avoid flowery scents. Products that are labeled fragrance-free means that they contain fewer chemicals. Federal law doesn't require companies to list the chemicals in their fragrance mix on products, so it's impossible to know what chemicals are in your shampoo or face wash. And according to the Environmental Working Group, fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and are among the top five allergens in the world.