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Good Nutrients and Bad Chemicals for Pregnancy

It is generally recognised now that conditions we are exposed to in the womb not only determine whether we will face any complications at birth but they can also affect our health later in life, including predisposition to such health conditions as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity. This means that there may be no other health determining window of opportunity as important as pregnancy.

There are two significant issues when it comes to giving our future children the best possible start to life. First, it is the proven nutritional supplements that are a requisite for a healthy pregnancy. Second are the lesser known but common chemical exposures which are involved in hampering the child’s development.

1) Essential Supplements

Nutrient Amount Why?

Vitamin D

1,000 – 1,200 IU/day

Oct to Mar and other cold/rainy days

Vitamin D is involved in numerous physiological processes. With vast majority of the population lacking vitamin D, supplementation is required to reduce pregnancy complications and improve offspring’s health.

Folic Acid


Deficiency leads to spina bifida and anencephaly caused by incomplete closing of spine and skull. Taking just 400mcg a day before and during pregnancy could prevent up to 70% of neural tube defects. Folic acid is also commonly used in the prevention of miscarriages.


50-60mcg /day

One of the nutrients we do not get enough of from our diets. Poor dietary intake of selenium causes oxidative stress, being associated with increased preterm labour, preeclampsia and miscarriages.


150mcg /day as Potassium Iodide. Vegetarians and vegans may need more.

Iodine (required for thyroid functioning) demands soar in pregnancy. So much so, that over half of pregnant women are deficient. The latest research shows that children born to women with low iodine levels have considerably lower scores for verbal IQ, reading comprehension and reading accuracy in school.

Docosa-hexaenoic Acid (DHA)

200 – 300mg/day

Essential for preventing brain deficiency, with higher intakes associated with improved child learning ability, visual acuity and higher IQ. With fish oil being a source of environmental chemical toxins, ensure to purchase a GMP quality assured product.

2) Reduce Chemical Exposure

The knowledge that exposure to harmful chemical substances during pregnancy can negatively affect the developing baby is not new and it sounds very logical too. Just take the well-documented consequences of alcohol consumption and smoking during pregnancy as an example. The fact is, however, that we are exposed to hundreds of harmful chemical substances every day and there is often no way of avoiding them.

The levels of common everyday chemical exposure are too low to have measurable harmful effects. What we do not know is, if the cumulative effects of our exposure could be dangerous. While there apparently are no immediate consequences, we must realise our own limitations in that we just do not have the knowledge to fully understand the potential subtle effects of exposure in the womb and also the possibility that the knock on consequences do not emerge later in life. Early evidence now indicates that excess chemical exposure may play a role in causing adverse birth outcomes such as preterm birth, pregnancy loss, low birth weight, childhood morbidity, congenital defects, childhood obesity, impaired immune system development, cognitive dysfunction, asthma, early puberty as well as adult disease.

Let us make one thing clear, though. This is suggestive evidence, questionable at best. It is not time to reject modern life and hit the hills and the caves, sowing and hunting as we live with nature for nine months. It is a precaution, meaning small exposures are fine but as we know too much can be harmful. Hence, do your best to minimise exposure. Two common chemicals to be wary of are phthalates and bisphenol A.

The phthalates are proven hormonal disruptors suspected of having carcinogenic and reproductive effects. They are present in plastics, fabrics, carpets, personal care products and glues. The chemical bisphenol A is also a hormone disruptor, which can mimic estrogen. Therefore, it may disrupt development and concerns exist that it may provoke neural and behavioural defects. Bisphenol A can be mostly found in drink and food cans and plastic containers designed for repeated use.

So, how to reduce exposure? Simply minimise use of industrially processed products. One study showed that individuals who switched for three days from their normal food sources to the same foods freshly sourced and unpackaged had their levels of phthalates and bisphenol A in their urine decreased by 53% and 65%, respectively.

The table below gives a summary of recommendations provided by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for limiting potentially harmful chemical exposure, though one has to wonder if it is not somewhat excessive.



Use fresh food rather than processed foods

Aside from the obvious health benefits of fresh food (richer in nutrients with less additives), processed food can be contaminated by chemicals in the equipment used in food processing

Minimise foods in cans and plastic packaging

Chemicals can leach from packaging into the food

Minimise cosmetics, moisturisers, shower gels and fragrances

Manufacturers do not have to list toxic ingredients unless they are considered as an active ingredient. Terms such as natural’, ‘green’ and ‘non–toxic’ mean little and have been found in studies to contain phthalates.

Minimise exposure to  air fresheners, cleaning products and DIY agents such as paint and glue

They contain phthalates and other chemicals whose safety has not been adequately demonstrated in pregnancy

Avoid buying new fabrics, furniture, non-stick frying pans and cars

Also phthalate containing, posing safety concern in pregnancy, for e.g. new car smell is phthalate containing

Avoid garden/household pesticides

They contain chemicals whose safety has not been adequately demonstrated in pregnancy

Where to Find Related Information:
American Pregnancy Association
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists