Pregnant? 9 Must-Read Thoughts From Our Expert Advisors

Pregnant? 9 Must-Read Thoughts From Our Expert Advisors

March 18, 2023

By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director

We reached out to our expert advisors to share their prenatal wisdom with us for our new e-book, Easy Steps to a Safer Pregnancy. Here’s what they had to say:


1. “The developing fetus is the most sensitive of us all.”

— Shanna Swan, Professor of Preventative Medicine and Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, and 2023 Healthy Child Mom on a Mission Finalist


2. “Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs) are mainly synthetic chemicals that have been developed because of their useful properties in many common products including plastics, pesticides and herbicides, personal care products, household cleaning products and flame retardants. Secondary, and often unanticipated, properties of these chemicals include their dispersal into our soil, dust, air and water resources, and their subsequent uptake into wildlife and human bodies where they exert effects that disrupt the delicate balance of the endocrine (hormonal) system. EDCs can mimic, antagonize, or otherwise disrupt particular hormonal pathways, altering the balance of cellular responses. When these exposures occur during early (especially fetal) development, consequences can be severe, increasing the probability of later negative health outcomes including cancers, neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic disorders, asthma and immune disorders.”

— Janet Gray, Professor of Psychology and Science, Technology and Society, Vassar College; and Science Advisor and Board Member at the Breast Cancer Fund.


3. “Chemical pollution is chemicals in the wrong place. They may come from air pollution, consumer products or environmental pollution. Many of these chemicals can pass from the pregnant woman to her child, and they also make their way to the brain. Our brains are so complex that their development is uniquely sensitive to adverse effects from pollutants. The results are generally subtle – often just a matter of a few IQ points or some attention deficit. However, we need to protect every single brain cell and IQ point, as optimal brain function is so crucial to all of us. It is different from all other organs. Certain things, let’s say paint fumes at home or strong cleaning agents can be avoided. Don’t use chemicals in your garden, especially when a woman is pregnant or kids are playing in the grass. Choose organic food, especially during pregnancy and for baby food. When I look at the pesticide levels in conventional vegetables and fruit, I see there are residues. I think the limits used by the FDA are too high. We are now learning that exposures we said were safe in the past are no longer safe. Instead of hoping everyone will be fine, we should take action.”

— Dr. Philippe Grandjean, Professor of Environmental Medicine in Denmark and at Harvard School of Public Health; Author of Only Once Chance


4. “Unfortunately, the components of most synthetic fragrance (which can be made up of more than 100 different chemicals) are kept secret from consumers, meaning you just don’t know what you are being exposed to. Common fragrance chemicals include phthalates and synthetic musks both of which can impact hormone levels which may pose developmental harm. Avoiding fragrance where possible is another way to be safe rather than sorry during pregnancy.”

— Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research, Women’s Voices for the Earth


5. “In recent years studies have confirmed links between exposure to organophosphate pesticides during pregnancy and low birth weight, early gestation, and an increased risk of ADHD. Now, more than ever, it’s important to choose organic fruits and vegetables. One particular nutrient that is important when pregnant is folate (folic acid), so eat up on foods high in folate like dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, dried beans and peas. And be sure to buy organic especially for your leafy green vegetables as they consistently land themselves on the Dirty Dozen list.”

— Sara Snow, Green Lifestyle Expert, Author, Mom and Healthy Child Parent Ambassador


6. “We know that a healthy diet is a key component of a healthy pregnancy. Now, researchers are beginning to learn that a woman’s diet may help protect her and her developing baby from the harmful effects of air pollution. For example, a recent study in Spain found greater exposure to air pollutants during pregnancy was associated with lower scores of infant mental development, but only among women who reported eating a diet with low intake of fruits and vegetables. No effects from the air pollutants were observed in women who reported higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, which are well-established sources of important nutrients like antioxidants. Current research is examining a variety of nutrients such as antioxidants, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids to determine if and how they may counteract the effects of air pollutant exposure during pregnancy. Although this is a new field of research, it suggests that there are numerous benefits to eating a healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy. Women should consult with their healthcare providers to discuss what and how much they should be eating during this important time.”

— Jeanette Stignone, PhD, The Elizabeth Mascia Scholar in Children’s Environmental Health, Mount Sinai


7. “When we took an old shell of a building and made it a green home, it took enormous effort and research to make choices to avoid environmental toxins, but it was so worth it! We chose radiant heating instead of blown air, went with a soy-based plaster, low VOC paints and sealants for the floors, and untreated furniture. When I was considering getting pregnant, I experienced the same feeling; I wanted to create the best home for my growing baby—first in my body then in the world. Again it took a lot of effort and research but worth every second. I went even more organic with my food. I also became more aware of my beauty products and went all organic and toxic-free for everything from toothpaste to perfume to shampoo. HCHW was an incredible resource. I think the most important part of the journey is not getting overwhelmed and staying positive. We are all doing our best and every little change counts.”

— Alysia Reiner, Actress and Healthy Child Healthy World Parent Ambassador


8. “It’s important for us to do everything we can to keep toxics out of the nursery, but it’s no mean feat. We can’t just shop our way out of this problem. So buy safer products when you can, and speak up so everyone can access and afford the safer solutions!”

-Bobbi Chase Wilding, MS, Deputy Director, Clean and Healthy New York, Inc


9. “Pregnancy is a time of rapid development like no other. At this time, the developing embryo is depending on genetic and hormonal instructions to take it from a single fertilized cell to a complex organism also known as a baby! This complex process includes differentiation (cells taking on different roles—one becomes a skin cell, another becomes a brain cell) and migration (moving around so that each cell is in the right place and you don’t end up with an arm sticking out of your head for example). At no other time in a human’s life are so many drastic changes happening so quickly! This process is under delicate control by a number of hormonal and genetic signals, and environmental toxins unfortunately can alter or disrupt these signals. For this reason, I believe that pregnancy is the most critical window for toxin avoidance.”

-Jane Tavyev-Asher, MD, Director of Pediatric Neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Assistant Professor at UCLA in the Department of Pediatrics, and Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences; Healthy Child Advisor