Eco-savvy sun protection for pregnant women

Soleo Organic sunscreen

When you’re pregnant, your sunscreen doesn’t just have to protect your skin from UV rays, it should be free of toxic chemicals that can affect your growing fetus. Do you know which ones are double safe?

A study of about 1,000 brand-name sunscreen products discovered that 4 out of 5 contain toxic chemicals that may pose health hazards or don’t adequately protect skin from the sun’s damaging rays — or both! Some of the leading brands like Neutrogena, Coppertone, and Banana Boat ranked near the bottom of the safety list.

Don’t wait around for the FDA to get around to setting updated sunscreen standards (currently 30 years old). While companies remain free to claim protections they can’t deliver, you are free to protect your health and your baby’s health by avoid potentially toxic products.

To find out which sunscreens rank the most safe and effective, check out the EWG’s comprehensive sunscreen guide.

Here are the top 10:

  1. Soleo Organics Sunscreen – Organic chemical free sunscreen SPF 30+
  2. Soleo/Wyland Sunscreen – Organic chemical free sunscreen SPF 30+
  3. Soleo/Atlantis – Resort Organic chemical free sunscreen SPF 30+
  4. Keys Soap – Solar Rx Cosmetic Sunblock, SPF 30 zinc
  5. California Baby Sunblock Stick – SPF 30+
  6. California Baby – Sunblock Stick Everyday/year-Round, SPF 30+
  7. Badger Sunscreen, SPF 30
  8. Purple Prairie – Botanicals Sun Stick spf 30
  9. Marie Veronique Organics – Creme de Jour Tinted, SPF 30
  10. Marie Veronique Organics – Creme de Jour – 22.8% zinc oxide

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Should you ban your Teflon pan?

We love our Teflon coated pans for their nonstick convenience. The problem is their coated with PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) which in older pans can disintegrate into your food or gas off into the air around you. The manufacturers have created newer coated cookware made with more durable PTFE, but does that mean it’s safe — even for pregnant women and babies?

DuPont, who makes Teflon, claims PTFE-coated cookware is safe, and so does the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). But DuPont and other manufacturers of PTFE-coated pans are still phasing them out in their current form by 2015.

Le Creuset Skillet

The reason may be the many complaints and concerns from environmental groups over chemicals called PFOA (particularly perfluorooctanoic acid)  used to make the PTFE cookware. PFOA are known toxins shown to cause cancer and other health problems in animals, especially baby animals.

Recent research at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md linked to PFOA levels in pregnant women to lower birth weight in their newborns. The higher the pregnant women’s exposure, the lower the infants’ birth weight. You may not think decreased birth weight is much of a problem and might even be easier to deliver. But you really want to give your baby every chance to grow to full healthy potential unimpeded by toxic chemicals.

Unfortunately, most of us — about 95% of Americans — already have plenty of these chemicals in our blood. But we can still work to limit them as much as possible. There’s no better time to make an effort than when you’re planning to get pregnant for the first time.

If you decide to still use coated nonstick pans, here’s how to reduce exposure:

  • Only use newer pots and pans with undamaged cooking surfaces.
  • Cook over low heat. PTFE coated pans spew out 15 types of toxic gases and particles when heated to higher than 464 degrees. At higher levels the materials begin to decompose. To help keep the pans from getting too hot, avoid preheating empty pans and don’t use them under the broiler.
  • Use non-metal cooking utensils. Avoid scraping and scratching coated pans with metal utensils.
  • Turn on the fan when you’re cooking with a nonstick pan.

What’s the Best Alternative?

When New York Times columnist Marian Burros gave cooking pans the Stick Test, the highest rating went to The enameled cast-iron pan by Le Creuset, which performed the best and was easy to clean, too:

I recommend Le Creuset pans with a matte black enamel interior, not treated with any Teflon-like substance. (The company makes its black and white interior enamel from the same material, and says the black is fired at a higher temperature and withstands higher cooking temperatures.)”

Using good nonstick cookware simply requires a little different technique.

  • Lightly coat with a good, healthful cooking oil and heat the pan before adding food.
  • Let the food cook a while — until the pan releases it — before trying to lift and move it around.
  • Cleaning a cast iron pan, carbon steel pan, or the Le Creuset pan recommended above, is easier than you think. Scrub off food that sticks to the cast iron or carbon steel pans with a stiff brush. Food that clings to the Le Creuset pan simply soaks right off. Soap is not recommended for cast iron and carbon steel, but you can use it on the Le Creuset.

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What you need to know about mercury in fish

safe-fishIf you’re pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant, or just had a baby and are breastfeeding, no doubt you’re concerned about the mercury in fish (or you should be).

As both a health writer and eco-writer, I can tell you the decision you have to make about whether or not to eat fish when you’re pregnant is really a tough one. On the one hand, fish is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. It provides high quality protein and the essential fatty acids you and your baby need for growth and development. But industrial pollution in the oceans contaminates fish with mercury, which poses a major health threat, especially to a developing fetus.

Unfortunately, new research indicates the problem is only going to get worse. We can expect a 50 percent spike in the Pacific Ocean’s mercury level by the year 2050, that is, if the world’s coal industry continues along its current path. This dire prediction comes from a landmark study on Mercury in Aquatic Ecosystems, published May, 2009, by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey.

So should pregnant women eat fish?

The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Because fish contains both essential nutrition for health and toxic mercury that can harm fetal brain and nervous system development, The American Pregnancy Association recommends moderate intake of the types of fish deemed “safer” based on the the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) list. (See the safer to least safe types of fish below.) Although the FDA emphasizes the health properties of fish, the EPA urges much more caution. And here’s what the NRDC advises for pregnant women and young children:

Children under six, as well as women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, are the most vulnerable to mercury’s harmful effects. They should restrict or eliminate certain fish from their diet, including ahi or bigeye tuna, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy and fish caught in any waters that are subject to a mercury advisory. Women with elevated mercury levels should ideally begin avoiding or restricting their consumption of mercury-laden fish as much as a year before they become pregnant.

Here’s the fish recommendations for pregnant women, from the NRDC. For personalized advice based on your weight, check out the NRDC’s mercury thermometer.

NRDC Fish safety list for pregnant women

LEAST MERCURYEnjoy these fish:
Anchovies, Butterfish, Catfish, Clam, Crab (Domestic), Crawfish/Crayfish, Croaker (Atlantic), Flounder, Haddock (Atlantic), Hake, Herring, Mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub), Mullet, Oyster, Perch (Ocean), Plaice, Pollock, Salmon (Canned), Salmon (Fresh), Sardine, Scallop,Shad (American), Shrimp, Sole (Pacific), Squid (Calamari), Tilapia, Trout (Freshwater), Whitefish, Whiting

MODERATE MERCURYEat 6 servings or less per month:
Bass (Striped, Black), Carp, Cod (Alaskan), Croaker (White Pacific), Halibut (Atlantic), Halibut (Pacific), Jacksmelt, (Silverside), Lobster, Mahi Mahi, Monkfish, Perch (Freshwater), Sablefish, Skate, Snapper, Tuna (Canned chunk light), Tuna (Skipjack), Weakfish (Sea Trout)

HIGH MERCURYEat 3 servings or less per month:

Bluefish, Grouper, Mackerel (Spanish, Gulf), Sea Bass (Chilean), Tuna (Canned Albacore), Tuna (Yellowfin)


Mackerel (King), Marlin, Orange Roughy, Shark, Swordfish, Tilefish, Tuna, (Bigeye, Ahi)

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Get rid of pests the safe way during pregnancy

You know you should stay away from toxic pesticides when you’re pregnant, but this is the time of year when house and garden pests are pestier than ever. Here’s how to manage them without harming yourself, your baby, or the environment.  Tanglefoot natural pest barrior


  • Properly caulk and seal doors, windows, sinks, and showers.
  • Keep your kitchen free of crumbs, including underneath the sink and refrigerator.
  • To route out roaches, lightly dust the area they frequent with boric acid.
  • To give ants the axe, mix a cup of sugar with 3 cups of water and 4 teaspoons of boric acid. Put it in a jar, wrap the jar with masking tape, drizzle some of the mixture on the side of the jar, and poke several small holes in the top. Leave the jar(s) out for the ants to find and carry back to their ant colonies.
  • Stop crawling bugs in their tracks with a nontoxic sticky product like Tanglefoot.


  • Light attracts insects, so keep outdoor lights turned off at night.
  • Keep the area close to your house free of rocks, ground litter, firewood, and piles of trash– they serve as a welcome mat for roaches, scorpions, centipedes. While you’re at it, trim back trees and bushes close to the house so bugs won’t use tham as ladders to your windows.
  • To get rid of ant piles in your yard, pour hot, soapy water down the entrance to the ant hills.
  • For aphids and other plant destroying insects, try a mixture of Ivory Soap, water, and vegetable oil. (Watch Joe Lamp’l, author of “Over the Fence,”  in the video below to see it in action.)

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The Dirt on Cleaners

Should you use green cleaners when you’re pregnant? We know it’s the chemicals in cleaners that really get the job done. But when you’re pregnant, it’s even more important to know what to avoid.

The problem is cleaning products don’t have to be tested, there are no federal requirements, so consumers have no official warning about long-term health effects or fetal damage from using household cleaners, so a list of all the chemicals pregnant women should avoid doesn’t exist. But a recent study from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom found that babies of women who frequently used chemical-based cleaners while pregnant are more than twice as likely to have breathing problems.

If you’re pregnant and have already used harsh chemical cleaners, don’t despair. your exposure is probably limited and the likelihood of complications is negligible., says Brad Imler, PhD., president of the American Pregnancy Association.

Tom Natan, Ph.D., research director for the National Environmental Trust, agrees. “While we don’t know enough about these products, most are probably safe when used as directed in limited amounts and only when necessary,” he says. The bigger concern is multiple exposures. “You don’t always know where the dangers are and you’re potentially exposed more often than you think throughout the day,” explains Natan, who believes soap, hot water and elbow grease are vastly underrated. “You don’t have to kill bacteria; you can just remove them from surfaces by scrubbing and using hot water,” he says.

While even the scientists don’t agree on the dangers of every chemical cleaner, here are a few to watch out for – and a few good substitute cleaners to try.

Laundry Bleach

CONCERNS: Chlorine: Irritant; toxic; corrosive; may contain trace amounts of potentially carcinogenic organochlorines.
STAY SAFE: “Safe when used as directed,” says Brad Imler, Ph.D., president of the American Pregnancy Association. Use sparingly and with adequate ventilation. Never mix with ammonia (which creates toxic chloramine gas).
GO GREEN: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Non-Chlorine Bleach. $7.50. 800-456-1191,

Toilet-Bowl Cleaner

CONCERNS: Hydrochloric or oxalic acid, calcium hypochlorite: Irritant, toxic, corrosive.
STAY SAFE: The American Pregnancy Association recommends keeping the area well ventilated and wearing protective gloves. Never mix with other household cleaners.
GO GREEN: Ecover Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner. $4. 800-449-4925,

All-Purpose Cleaner

CONCERNS: Ammonia, petroleum, glycol ethers: Irritant; toxic; corrosive; May damage the nervous system.
STAY SAFE: “Don’t engage in overkill,” says Tom Natan, Ph.D., research director for the National Environmental Trust. Wear gloves and use proper ventilation.
GO GREEN: Planet All Purpose Cleaner. $3. 800-858-8449,

Glass Cleaner

CONCERNS: Ammonia: Irritant; toxic; corrosive; may contain solvents and glycol ethers; may effect the nervous system.
STAY SAFE: Use sparingly and with adequate ventilation. Close container when not in use.
GO GREEN: Bi-O-Kleen Glass Cleaner. $5. 800-477-0188,

Oven Cleaner

CONCERNS: Ammonia, potassium or sodium hydroxide: Irritant, toxic, corrosive.
STAY SAFE: The American Pregnancy Association recommends not using oven cleaners because the space is too confined to be well ventilated.
GO GREEN: Earth Friendly Products Orange Plus Concentrate. $5. 800-335-3267,

Key definitions

Corrosive: May destroy living tissue (skin or eyes) on contact.
Irritant: May cause substantial injury to the area of the body upon contact.
Toxic: May cause injury or illness upon ingestion, absorption or inhalation.

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Green thumb: eco-gardening

Live LadyBugs

Live ladybugs?

Cultivating a garden is a delight to many, whether it’s outdoors or on your windowsill, but not when you’re breathing in chemical fertilizers and pesticides. “There’s no question that pesticide exposure to the mother means exposure to the fetus,” says Miller. “Pesticides are designed to kill living organisms, so it’s not something you want to be close to when you’re pregnant.” Thankfully, natural fertilizers and nontoxic solutions are easy to find, and to use. You can even buy something like 1,500 ladybugs for around $12 and let them help you do the job naturally.

{GREEN} Use natural alternatives to harsh chemicals. Eco-friendly gardening materials are available everywhere now, even at The Home Depot and CVS stores. For example, TerraCycle (see Revolution in a Bottle: How TerraCycle Is Redefining Green Business) makes plant food and fertilizer using worm excrement packaged in recycled soda bottles.

{GREENER} Practice green pest control in your garden. “Pay attention every day so you can catch pests and pick them off,” says Joe Lamp’l, aka joe gardener, host of “Fresh From the Garden” on the Do It Yourself Network and author ofover-the-fence-joe-gardner Over the Fence with Joe Gardener and The Green Gardener’s Guide: Simple, Significant Actions to Protect & Preserve Our Planet.

If your plants are already infested with aphids, for example, choose the solution with the lowest environmental impact, which may be as simple as a strong blast of water. If you must spray something, Lamp’l suggests mixing Liquid Ivory Soap, vegetable oil and water. Prevent indoor infestations by keeping rooms clean and caulking around showers and sinks. To catch creepy-crawlies, use nontoxic sticky barrier products such as Tanglefoot.


{GREENEST} Plant organic or heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds produce some of the tastiest, most nutritious tomatoes, peppers and herbs. These seeds are the open-pollinated kind that generations have saved so they can grow the best varieties again and again. Most seeds today are hybrids or genetically engineered, and while they may grow faster and be more disease resistant, heirlooms top them for taste and genetic variety. Planting and saving heirloom seeds keep diversity alive and available to future generations. For a good source of seeds, try Seeds of Change.

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What’s in your tap water?

safe drinking waterObstetricians consistently stress the importance of drinking fluids during pregnancy. But concerns about lead, mercury and other potential contaminants lurking in your water may have you thinking twice before reaching for the tap.

Of particular concern is lead, which can cause premature birth, low birth weight and permanent damage to a baby’s developing nervous system. “Lead is one of the most toxic metals to children, and it’s more prevalent than we suspect,” says Mark Woodin, Sc.D., professor of environmental health in the civil and environmental engineering department at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 900,000 children ages 1 to 5 in the United States still have elevated blood lead levels. And while water rarely is the sole cause of lead poisoning, it can be a significant contributing factor.

On average, municipal water systems are required to ensure that tap water does not exceed 15 micrograms of lead per liter. Even so, an enormous amount of water in this country is not tested, Woodin claims. “Piping systems in big cities like Boston, Los Angeles and New York are a huge problem, and even though they’re periodically tested, you just don’t know what’s coming out of your tap,” he says.

To get your water tested, which costs anywhere from $15 to hundreds of dollars, contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791, or do it yourself. You can purchase a Watersafe Drinking Water Testing Kit ($17, According to the EPA, you also can minimize any potential exposure to toxic chemicals by running cold water down the drain for 30 seconds to two minutes before drinking it and using cold water for drinking and cooking (hot water tends to leach more lead).

Reverse OsmosisBetter yet, invest in a high-quality Reverse Osmosis water filter system. The filter will remove lead, chlorine, mercury and other chemicals. “And, even if there are no problems with your tap water, filtered water tastes better and it might make you drink more,” Woodin says, For a list of water filters capable of removing lead, visit (NSF International is a nonprofit public health and safety group that tests and certifies home water-treatment devices) or contact the Water Quality Association at 630-505-0160 or

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The natural nursery

nontoxic cribWhile launching a remodeling project before your baby’s arrival may seem like a good idea, it requires a lot of different building materials–glues, paints and chemical solvents. “Suddenly your house turns into a construction site with contamination levels that can be problematic,” says Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network.

Here are a few posts to help you during the planning stage: on

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Plastic and Pregnancy

You may have heard of the controversy over the chemicals in some kitchen storage containers, plastic baby bottles and baby toys. Government regulators assure us these products are safe, even for pregnant women and infants. But concerned scientists and environmental groups disagree, citing years of disturbing results from research conducted on lab animals.

We can’t tell from animal studies exactly how exposure at different times during pregnancy affects a developing human fetus, but these chemicals may impact health at much lower exposure levels than previously believed, if the effects seen in animal studies also occur in humans,” says Tom Natan, Ph.D., research director for the National Environmental Trust. “We certainly don’t want to imply that there’s danger lurking in every plastic container, but it makes sense to protect yourself,” he adds. Until the experts sort out the potential problems, Natan recommends making a few simple changes to your normal routine. Here are some pointers for using plastic safely:


  • Look for toys and furniture that don’t contain polyvinylchloride (PVC) #3. These may contain plasticizers called diisononyl phthalates (DINP) shown to cause birth defects, cancer and organ damage in mice. New PVC products often have a strong odor; if it smells like a new shower curtain, it’s probably PVC. Toss the vinyl shower curtain and check out this safer versions.
  • To sidestep the plastic toy problem, many green companies are making toys in the old classic style out of natural materials. Big companies like Gerber and Little Tikes make a few safe toys, but you have to check the labels very carefully or know what to ask.
  • Microwave foods only in glass or microwave-safe plastic containers. “And, microwave formula in a glass measuring cup and pour it into the plastic bottle after it cools,” Natan says. Today’s plastic wraps such as Glad Cling Wrap, Saran Wrap and Ziploc Storage Bags are said to be safe, but Natan recommends glass food covers when microwaving. “The problem isn’t chemicals leaching out, but the plastic itself melting into the food at high temperatures,” he says. You don’t want to take any more chances than necessary, especially when you’re pregnant.
  • Look for the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) identification code stamped on products (a number inside a triangle with chasing arrows). Choose baby bottles made with polyethylene (#2 or #4) or polypropylene (#5). For information on products that don’t have these numbers, call the manufacturer’s toll-free number or check the company’s website. Some experts also suggest discarding clear, rigid plastic bottles that are worn or scratched. Safe replacements include Avent Via Nurser Kit, Evenflo Classic Glass Nurser bottles and Playtex Original Nurser bottles (these brands are available at mass retailers including Babies “R” Us and Target). For more on plastics and baby bottles, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website,

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Low-impact linens

When you’re pregnant or caring for a newborn, you need all the sleep you can get. Thinking about toxic chemicals in your bed linens won’t keep you up nights-if you go organic. To minimize toxins: “Sheets shouldn’t be permanent-press or made with nylon or synthetic materials,” say Deirdre Dolan and Alexandra Zissu, co-authors of The Complete Organic Pregnancy. The manufacture of conventional cotton sheets requires large amounts of formaldehyde, bleaches, dyes, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

{GREEN} Launder linens with nontoxic laundry products, such as Seventh Generation Baby Laundry Liquid and Chlorine-Free Bleach. “Many families use separate laundry soap for their newborn’s clothing, but you can use baby-safe laundry soap for the rest of your family’s laundry as well,” says Kimberly Rider, author of Organic Baby: Simple Steps for Healthy Living. If you buy only one thing for the nursery, make it an organic mattress pad or cover, advises Rider.

{GREENER} Replace worn-out linens with organic-cotton varieties, which are now widely available and more affordable than ever. Cotton grown in the U.S. uses 25 percent of the insecticides in the world, so going organic will lighten the toxic load on your pillow and the planet.


Reuse and recycle natural-fabric baby linens from friends and family and you will help reduce the huge amounts of water used to manufacture new fabric. “The fabric finishes will have been mostly laundered off, so they are less likely to emit fumes or be laden with toxic coatings,” Rider says. When it’s time to replace linens, buy from companies with responsible manufacturing practices.


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