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During pregnancy, mothers-to-be generally try to eat better and take better care of themselves in the hopes of improving the health of their infants. Pregnant moms may also try avoiding certain chemical exposures like cigarette smoke and even harsh cleaning products. This can be a tricky task, however. One recent study has found that flame retardant exposure—a difficult exposure to avoid—is linked to lower birth weight in babies.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that for every tenfold increase in PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether) levels in the mother’s blood, there was a 4.1 ounce drop in the baby’s birth weight. Lead researcher Kim Harley, from the University of California, Berkley’s School of Public Health, stated, “What we saw was a shift toward lighter babies among women with higher PBDE exposure rather than a dramatic increase in the number of low birth weight babies.” For babies already at risk for low birth weight for other reasons, 4.1 ounces would make a big difference.

The PBDEs tested for in the study were actually phased out of use in 2004, but because they are found in many household items, their persistence is still widespread. These chemicals leach from furniture, upholstery, carpet, electronics and more (even baby products and children’s pajamas!), and are stored in fat cells. Flame retardants have been linked to reduced fertility and thyroid dysfunction in women.

How do we get out of this toxic soup? Well, we can’t. But the researchers do recommend wet mopping when dusting since flame retardants are concentrated in dust, and frequent hand washing to avoid ingesting these chemicals.

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A recent study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that in almost all of 268 pregnant women tested, eight different types of chemicals were found in their bodies. Chemicals found include pesticides, flame retardants, PFCs from non-stick cookware, phthalates, car exhaust pollutants and even DDT, a chemical that has been banned since 1979!

These toxins can pass right through the placenta and into the fetus. In fact, a previous study, done by the Environmental Working Group, found that unborn babies carry over 200 different chemicals in their bodies, even before they are born.

The study in pregnant women looked for 163 different chemicals, so it only scratches the surface, because over 80,000 new chemicals are introduced each year. The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) was found in 96 percent of these women. Prenatal BPA exposure has been linked to adverse health outcomes, affecting brain development and susceptibility to cancer in later life.

Certain chemical levels found in these women were at levels known to be harmful to children. While concerning, this does not even take into account the additive effect that chemicals have, which is considered to be more dangerous because new chemical compounds can be formed when chemicals mix, and little is known about the possible consequences of this.

Toxins are everywhere. We live in a toxic soup. We can reduce our exposure, but we cannot prevent it. That’s why a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and supporting the health of the body’s channels of elimination (colon, liver, kidneys, lymph, blood, lungs and skin) are so vital to reducing the harmful effects that toxins can have on our health.

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