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30th May 2019

Seven common chemicals you should avoid while trying to make a baby

Plus, how to stay away from them.

Jessica Bourke

Seven common chemicals you should avoid while trying to make a baby

Chemicals are an unavoidable part of modern life.

While they have their uses, recent research has raised concerns over the safety of even small amounts of chemical exposure for women who are either trying to conceive or already pregnant.

The problem is that chronic exposure to low levels of certain chemicals may impact hormonal balance in women, as well as men.

But, these chemicals may be especially dangerous for a woman who is trying to conceive, given that anything she is exposed to may also affect the health of her future baby.

What are endocrine disrupting chemicals? They are nasty chemicals that mess with your hormones and have the potential to cause all sorts of problems including infertility, developmental abnormalities during pregnancy and even cancer.

One study found that exposure to BPA during pregnancy, predisposed offspring to lung problems as young children, while another found that BPA may also be responsible for increased Autism risk in children.

BPA is one of the most common chemicals we’re exposed to on a daily basis because it’s in everything from tinned cans, to shopping receipts to baby’s bottles. Thankfully, due to increased awareness about the dangers of BPA there are now BPA-free baby products available, but the jury is still out on whether the substitute chemical, is really that much safer than BPA.

Some of the more common chemicals to watch out for include:

  • Aluminium is added to antiperspirants and hair gels and might be labelled as aluminium chloride hexahydric or chlorhydrate.
  • Atrazine is a chemical found in pesticides that has been found to cause feminisation in men (loss of facial hair or breast enlargement)
  • BPA (bisphenol A) mimics oestrogen within the body and has been linked to breast cancer.
  • Dioxins are tricky to avoid as they are present in the environment due to industry. Eating fewer animal products may help reduce your exposure.
  • Mercury is a well-known toxin that impacts sperm development and egg quality. Limit consumption of tuna as larger fish tend to accumulate higher amounts of mercury. Avoid having dental work on amalgam fillings when trying to conceive, ideally opting for white resin fillings instead.
  • Parabens are widely used as a preservative in cosmetic products and have been linked to decreased sperm production, breast cancer and other conditions related to excess oestrogen.
  • Phthalates are industrial chemicals that are added to PVC products to soften them or as a solvent in cosmetics. According to research from Harvard school of public health, there is a much higher risk of phthalate exposure for babies who require neonatal care, as phthalates/PVC form a part of the plastic tubing that is used for IV drips. Simply by a hospital switching to phthalate and PVC-free medical equipment, infant exposure to this toxic chemical could be greatly reduced.

Tips for minimising your chemical exposure:

Don’t become overwhelmed. When faced with how many everyday products contains these hormone disrupting chemicals, many people are inclined to give up before they’ve even begun.

The key is baby steps. Instead of dumping every cosmetic, cleaning and DIY product that you own straight into the bin, wait until a product runs out and then replace it with a healthier upgrade.

Cosmetics and toiletries

  • Try natural mineral-based foundations and eyeshadows and check to make sure there no parabens in your chosen products.
  • Lipsticks and lip glosses are a big offender because they are easily ingested. Opt for natural options made from shea butter or bees wax.
  • Limit the amount of perfume you use and try only to spray it on your clothing or hair, rather than directly on to the skin. Natural perfumes are widely available that depend on essential oils rather than toxic chemicals for their fragrance.
  • Nail polish is known for containing high levels of phthalates. There are non-toxic versions available though they do tend to be less hard-wearing than standard nail polish. To reduce exposure, opt for bare fingernails and only use it on toenails during the summer months when you are more likely to be wearing sandals.
  • Try to minimise how often you dye your hair. This especially applies for those of you who use brown or black hair dyes, which have been found to have higher chemical levels than the blonde hair dyes. Highlights would be preferable to an all-over colour as you want to minimise skin exposure to the dye as it absorbs straight into the blood stream.
  • Shampoos should be as natural as possible. There is a long list of potential ingredients to be aware of in shampoos.
  • Keep things simple. Jojoba or Sweet almond oil are brilliant natural moisturisers and because they are oils they are perfect for removing eye make-up, using warm water and cotton wool. Moisturisers don’t have to be complicated products with long ingredient lists, shea butter and coconut oil smell beautiful and are toxin-free alternatives to keep your skin smooth and supple.

Cleaning Products

  • Choose the natural option before reaching for the ‘hard Baking soda and vinegar is a classic combination that is toxin-free and works a treat in bathrooms or on carpet stains. If that sounds too messy for your liking, there are a number of eco-options now available in the supermarket that won’t aggravate your lungs or skin while you use them.


  • Opt for organic produce to minimise pesticide exposure. To make shopping easier and a little cheaper, you can check out the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen so you know which fruit and vegetables are safest to buy non-organic and which are worth spending a little extra for the pesticide-free version.
  • Buy food in glass bottles/jars instead of canned. Tins with a white interior are typically lined with BPA-containing plastic film
  • Use stainless steel drinking bottles or glass Pyrex bowls or kiln jars for storing hot food, instead of plastic.
  • Never heat up food in the microwave in a plastic container or with plastic wrap on top. The heat of the microwave leaches the chemicals from the plastic into your food.
  • Choose plastic food boxes with the recycle no.’s 1, 2, 4 and 5. Plastic Tupperware labelled with the numbers 3, 6 or 7 are not considered safe for food storage, especially if warm food is being added to the container, cue take-away meals.
  • Opt for case iron or stainless steel pans/pots, instead of Teflon for cooking. Eco-pans that are mineral based won’t degrade at high temperatures, which means you avoid chemicals leaching into your food.

Most paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). Eco-friendly paints can be more expensive or may not be available in the colour you want, so it’s best to leave the DIY to someone else, especially if you’re already pregnant. If you must do the job yourself, wear a face mask and painting gloves and keep the room well ventilated to avoid inhaling toxic fumes.

Chemicals are present everywhere in our environment, so it’s impossible to completely avoid exposure, but by making healthy diet and lifestyle choices we can do our best to reduce our toxic load and hopefully, this should go some way towards protecting the health of the next generation.

With almost a decade of experience in the field, Jessica Bourke has gained a reputation for helping women conceive where everything else has failed. For more from Jessica, visit