Child Development
How to Avoid Pesticides While Pregnant

How to Avoid Pesticides While Pregnant

January 16, 2023

By Megan Boyle

Are you pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant? Now’s the time to start limiting your exposure to pesticides.

Over-exposure to pesticides may cause an array of health problems; at worst, nerve damage, impaired intelligence and cancer. A recent study by Alex Lu and colleagues at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health showed that children exposed to indoor pesticides have a 47 percent higher risk of developing certain cancers in childhood.

The developing fetus is uniquely vulnerable. It experiences rapid and profound changes in the uterus. Exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals during these critical stages of development can do lasting harm.

A 2023 study associated prenatal exposure to a class of pesticides called organophosphates with lower birth weight and shorter pregnancies. Organophosphates are potent neurotoxins that can damage the nervous system and brain, even in small doses.

Several studies of American children, like this 2011 study by researchers at University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health, have reported lower IQ levels in children exposed to organophosphate insecticides during pregnancy.

Under the federal Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, the U.S. Environmental Protection Act tightened restrictions on many pesticides, including organophosphates. But those regulations haven’t gone far enough.

Here’s how to limit your exposure to pesticides during pregnancy:

Eat organic foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

Eat food certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you’re new to organic eating, can’t find organic foods or can’t afford to eat 100 percent organic food, consult EWG’s Dirty Dozen list and avoid the 12 conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables with the highest amount of pesticide residue. Always wash produce – even organically grown – thoroughly before eating.

Do not use pesticides at home.

Indoors, take preventive steps to keep away pests. Rodents, roaches and ants look for food to eat and places to hide, particularly in the kitchen and bathrooms. Put food away, vacuum regularly and seal small openings in your windows, walls and floors to block their entry.

Outdoors, digging out weeds and choosing organic, slow-release fertilizers can keep pests at bay and minimize weeds. Here are tips for controlling specific pests without pesticides.

Talk to your neighbors or homeowners’ association about their pest control measures. If they use pesticides, keep your doors and windows closed when they spray. Take your shoes off before coming indoors to avoid tracking in residue.

Take care with flea and tick medications for pets.

Reduce your pet’s need for treatment by bathing and combing frequently, avoiding areas in your neighborhood where pests are common and vacuuming often to get rid of bugs and their eggs.

If your pet needs medication to deter ticks and fleas, choose the least toxic option. Ask someone else to apply it, and limit your contact with the treated pet for 24 hours. Anyone who applies anti-pest treatments to animals should follow safety instructions, wear gloves and wash hands immediately.