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Avoiding Toxic Substances During Pregnancy

This press release was orginally distributed by ReleaseWire

Salt Lake City, UT — (ReleaseWire) — 07/23/2021 — When a woman finds out they are pregnant, it seems to change everything. Suddenly she isn't just thinking about herself, but about the baby they are carrying. Questions about what substances or environmental exposures may be harmful to mom or baby are a natural reaction.

There's the usual medical advice about avoiding alcohol or illegal or prescription drugs when pregnant. Plus, it seems many people are much more aware of their environment days and the products uses. If pregnant, that can add an additional layer of questions on what over-the-counter medications are safe to use, what foods to avoid, and if chemicals or poor air quality could cause harm to mom or baby.

Dr. Virginia Homewood, an OB/Gyn with Intermountain offers some tips on some of the substances to avoid – some that seem obvious and some new moms may not be as familiar with.

"When we think about toxic exposures during pregnancy, some things can be somewhat harmful to mom," said Dr. Homewood. "But often we're typically more concerned about the effect of the exposures on the developing fetus."

Dr. Homewood gives this list of the most important substances to avoid when you're pregnant:

Alcoholic beverages – We don't know if there's a safe level of alcohol consumption when a woman is pregnant, so the best advice is to not consume any. Drinking alcohol has been linked to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which can include severe developmental issues, learning difficulties, attention deficit disorders, and other developmental problems that don't appear until later in a baby's life.

Illegal Drugs – "There are so many types of illegal drugs and the effects are varied depending on the drug," said Dr. Homewood. "With narcotics, we see addiction in the baby. Then the baby suffers from withdrawal symptoms. It can cause neurodevelopmental problems as well." Other drugs affect the pregnancy and can cause complications for the mother, like high blood pressure or preterm labor.

Smoking – Smoking cigarettes can increase the chance of miscarriage or preterm labor. "It also can affect fetal growth, and increases the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS," said Dr. Homewood. She says vaping during pregnancy would also be harmful, since e-cigarettes contain nicotine. "E-cigarettes are less-regulated than regular cigarettes and that means the amount of nicotine or other substances in them is harder to determine."

Mercury – Pregnant women should limit mercury, which is found in some fish. Mercury affects neurodevelopment and the brain of the developing fetus. Limit choices to low-mercury fish. Dr. Homewood said that fish is an excellent source of lean protein and the fish oil found in fish is especially healthy, so it's important to find the balance. A good goal is to eat two servings of low mercury fish per week. Lake fish and shellfish are safe to eat.

Experts say to avoid these types of fish if you're pregnant:
– King mackerel
– Marlin
– Orange roughy
– Shark
– Swordfish
– Tilefish (from Gulf of Mexico)
– Big eye tuna

Fish with lowest levels of mercury include:
– Canned tuna
– Cod
– Flounder
– Haddock
– Pollock
– Shellfish
– Salmon
– Sardines
– Tilapia
– Trout (freshwater)
– Whitefish

For more information see the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendations for pregnant women about fish.

Hair and nail salons

"We don't know if the chemicals to color or perm your hair or do your nails are harmful or not. If you can smell it, it's probably not good," said Dr. Homewood. She suggests skipping the salon temporarily or making sure the area is well-ventilated.

"The best strategy is to adopt the mindset that fewer exposures is better. Reduce your exposure to things that are harmful."

What toxic exposures might there be in your own home?

Chemicals used in plastics such as phthalates. BPA is example. BPA has been removed from most baby products, but it's replaced with other BPP or other similar bisphenol molecules.

Dr. Homewood suggests that women should be aware of plastics and use them safely. Don't reuse disposable plastic bottles. Don't re-heat food in the microwave in plastic, like Tupperware or plastic wrap. Heat food in a dish or in glass. Cover the dish with waxed paper or a paper plate. The plastics leach into the food. Especially avoid plastics marked #7 and #3.

Eating and preparing food

Pregnant women should make sure meats are cooked all the way through before eating. "Deli-meats need to be heated and not eaten cold. And if you're pregnant, only eat dairy products that are pasteurized," said Dr. Homewood.

Keep home dust free. Mop floors. Use a HEPA filter on vacuum. Dr. Homewood said this will help reduce toxins in the home.

Opt for natural cleaning products. "A lot of cleaners are not studied in pregnant women, so we just don't know if they're safe," said Dr. Homewood. "You can create your own with vinegar. You can soak citrus fruit in it for a better scent. When you are using cleaning products, keep the room well-ventilated."

Avoid flame retardants. "Opt for infant clothing without flame retardants, because they contain toxins," said Dr. Homewood. She said flame retardants are common in pajamas, costumes, and furniture.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Any medication has a potential for harm during pregnancy. "It's best to not take anything before you talk to your doctor or midwife. They can help you know if over the counter medications are safe and when it is safe to take them. They can also help review any prescription medications you have," said Dr. Homewood. For pain relief, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is preferred over ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin for pregnant women.

Are there certain prescription medications that should be avoided?

"Medications that should not be taken when you're thinking of getting pregnant or during pregnancy would include the acne medication Accutane, ace inhibitors, and some blood pressure or diabetes medications," said Dr. Homewood.

"If you're taking medication and thinking of getting pregnant go in for a check-up. Many women have put off going to the doctor during the pandemic, but Intermountain has many safety protocols in place to protect you and your provider from COVID-19."

Does it matter what trimester a woman is in as far as reducing exposure to environmental toxins or medications?

Dr. Homewood said that generally, during the first trimester, in the early development stages, is when baby is most at risk of being affected by exposures. But it varies, from medication to medication. Some are a concern later in pregnancy.

What about toxic exposures in the workplace?

"Let your doctor or midwife know about your work environment. You'll want to minimize your exposure if you work with cleaners or chemicals, whether you work in a factory, warehouse, dry cleaners, salon or in healthcare," said Dr. Homewood.

Where can women go for more information? "Talk with your provider about any medications you're taking or substances you're concerned about," said Dr. Homewood.

Another resource is Mother to Baby, the nation's leading authority and most trusted source of evidence-based information on the safety of medications and other exposures during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It's a no-cost information service available to mothers, health professionals, and the general public via chat, text, phone, and email in both English and Spanish. It's recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Women's Health.

The phone number for Mother to Baby is 1-866.626.6847. Or visit Intermountain Moms.

About Intermountain Healthcare
Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 25 hospitals, 225 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,600 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in clinical quality improvement and in efficient healthcare delivery. For more information about Intermountain, visit, read our blogs, or connect with us at and

For more information on this press release visit:

Media Relations Contact

Holly Nelson
Media Relations
Intermountain Healthcare
Telephone: 1-801-442-3218
Email: Click to Email Holly Nelson

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