How to Help Protect Our Smallest Bundles from Body Burden

Toxins in the Womb: A Hand-Me-Down No Baby Needs

It was a small study, but scary nevertheless: In a 2004 study by the Environmental Working Group, more than 200 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals were discovered in the umbilical cord blood of the 10 U.S. newborns studied. How did these chemicals get there? They could only have been passed along from the mothers.

Scientists call the accumulation of toxins in our bodies a person’s “body burden.” And unfortunately, this study indicates that our children may already be burdened with toxic chemicals before they’ve even officially made their entrance into the world.

Watch this video I made describing how chemicals can build up over time and be passed along from mother to baby.

A Growing Burden

Even more concerning news came from a follow-up study conducted in 2009. While the 2004 study didn’t test for certain chemicals like BPA, which wasn’t as widely used then, the 2009 study did reveal BPA in nine of the ten cord blood samples tested. Other new toxins were also revealed, including tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), the world’s most heavily manufactured brominated fire retardant (BFR) and routinely used in electronic circuit boards; as well as synthetic fragrances used in common cosmetics and detergents, and perfluorobutanoic acid (PFOA), which is used in the process of making Teflon®.

Why Children Are More Sensitive

Why Children Are More Sensitive

While different groups of people can be more or less susceptible to the toxic effects of harmful chemicals, children are among the most vulnerable, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Here’s why:

  • A developing child’s chemical exposures are greater pound-for-pound than those of adults.
  • An immature, porous blood-brain barrier allows greater chemical exposures to the developing brain.
  • Children have lower levels of some chemical-binding proteins, allowing more of a chemical to reach “target organs.”
  • A baby’s organs and systems are rapidly developing, and thus are often more vulnerable to damage from chemical exposure.
  • Systems that detoxify and excrete industrial chemicals are not fully developed.
  • The longer future life span of a child compared to an adult allows more time for adverse effects to arise.

What effects can the buildup of harmful chemicals have on our children? Scientists have linked such health problems as asthma, childhood cancer and neuro-developmental disorders to common contaminants like solvents, pesticides, PCBs and volatile organic compounds.

What’s a Mom to Do?

Whats a Mom to Do

Avoiding chemical exposure is almost impossible, but there are steps you can take to limit it. Dr. Johanna Congleton from the Environmental Working Group has this advice for reducing flame retardant chemicals in your home.

  • If you are in the market for a new refrigerator or other item in which fire retardants are used, ask the manufacturer if they offer products without brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and let them know that you prefer products free of toxic chemicals.
  • Some companies offer products that are free of BFRs. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has issued a report listing such products.

Dr. Leo Trasande, co-director of Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center, further advises expectant mothers:

  1. Make sure your home doesn’t have lead-based paint hazards.
  2. Eat organic to limit your consumption of methylmercury in some fish.
  3. Limit spraying pesticides in homes.
  4. Have your home tested for radon.
  5. Make sure your water supply isn’t contaminated by arsenic.

In addition, steer clear of toxic household cleaning products as well as personal care products and/or cosmetics containing fragrances or other harmful chemicals. Read labels carefully and always make sure you know what is brought into your home.

We may not be able to protect our babies and children from exposure to harmful chemicals one hundred percent of the time, but by taking reasonable precautions we can significantly limit their contact.

comment_2Do you have children in your home? We’d love to know what steps you’ve taken to make it as free as possible from harmful chemicals. Please leave us a comment below!


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