How to Reduce Environmental Risks During Pregnancy

Tiffany Ayuda
Medically Reviewed
August 4, 2020

While access to proper healthcare, good nutrition, and safe water are systemic issues that require a collective effort from our government and society as a whole to fix, there are steps you can take to be a better health advocate for yourself—and it starts with finding a doctor that will help you (or someone you love) meet individualized needs.

It’s rare for many doctors to take such a conscientious look at one's entire lifestyle and the environment in which they live, but at Parsley Health, members get more than just the 20-minute pep talk and blood work. To start, being a Parsley member means taking an extensive questionnaire about every facet of life, from the circumstances around one's own birth to what the member currently does for a living and how they manage stress.

“One of the greatest features of the Parsley membership is the amount of time we have to spend with our patients,” Dr. Milbank says. “We do a lengthy intake with each of our members that allows for an in-depth discussion of every part of our members’ lives—past medical and environmental history, discussion around the home and occupational environment that may put a woman at risk of environmental exposure.”

This information allows Parsley Health doctors to understand what has shaped the health conditions and lifestyle members have today, and how these events in life play a role in how well they feel.

From there, Parsley doctors conduct extensive testing that goes beyond traditional bloodwork and looks for nutritional deficiencies , heavy metals and genetic implications, like MTHFR , Dr. Milbank says.

“We do extensive nutritional counseling around fish and vegetable consumption and help patients understand how to select low-mercury seafood and minimize exposure to pesticides. We also counsel our patients on basic foundational lifestyle principles, like sleep hygiene, stress management, and how to optimize exercise,” she says. By making these changes to your lifestyle, you can help minimize environmental hazards from climate change that can be harmful in pregnancy.

Other environmental factors to consider are exposures to toxic chemicals from cleaning supplies, beauty products, and pesticides, many of which are considered endocrine disruptors.

Here are just a handful of lifestyle habits that lower environmental risks during pregnancy for you, or someone you love.

Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet.

Whether you’re able to buy organic produce or not, the more important thing is to get more vegetables and fruits into your diet. Think leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and berries. That said, if you’re deciding which vegetables and fruits you should consider buying organic, reference the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. You also want to consider eating more fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and cod. “Fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is fundamental to both mom and baby’s brain health. Some plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia and flax seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds.

Stay hydrated.

Drinking enough water not only helps your body perform everyday functions, but when you’re pregnant, your blood volume increases by at least 50 percent to support the growing baby, so make sure to drink enough water, Dr. Milbank says. Water is also necessary for staying regular (constipation is common during pregnancy thanks to higher progesterone levels), absorbing nutrients and transporting vitamins, minerals and hormones to blood cells.

Avoid fish high in mercury.

To reduce your exposure to heavy metals , avoid choosing seafood high in mercury, like shark, king mackerel and tilefish. Dr. Milbank suggests following the National Resources Defense Council’s guide to buying seafood to select fish low in mercury.

Get rid of cleaning and beauty products with harmful chemicals.

Dr.Milbank recommends avoiding cleaning and beauty products that contain phthalates, parabens, oxybenzone, BPA, and BPS. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep list of approved skincare brands and personal care products for you and your baby.

Minimize exposure to plastics.

Plastics contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals , Dr. Milbanks says. Use water bottles and food containers made with aluminum or glass.

Reduce exposure to pollution when possible.

Dr. Milbank recommends exercising in green spaces and avoiding walking in areas that are highly polluted. You should also limit outdoor exercise when air quality is poor.

Tiffany Ayuda

Tiffany Ayuda is a New York City-based editor and writer passionate about fitness, nutrition, health, and wellness. She has held previous editorial roles at Prevention, Eat This, Not That, Daily Burn, and Everyday Health. Tiffany is also a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise. When she's not writing or breaking up a sweat, Tiffany enjoys cooking up healthy meals in her Brooklyn kitchen.

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Parsley Health is Hilton's virtual women+ health benefit whose medical team treats the root cause of symptoms and conditions by getting to know you on a deeper level, identifying risk factors, and creating a health plan just for you.

Parsley Health is available to all women+ Team Members (and eligible spouses and 18+ dependents) who are enrolled in an Anthem or Cigna health plan through Hilton.

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