Why 'Anti-Toxin Pregnancy Guides' Aren't Enough

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Regulatory action is needed to protect women and their unborn children from the chemicals in household products.

When you get pregnant, you suddenly become concerned about the world in ways you never were before. This includes wanting to avoid toxic chemicals in household products, which can be harmful to developing fetuses. Hence the countless articles on 'how to reduce exposure to toxins in pregnancy' that you can find on every environmentally-minded website, including TreeHugger.

While the intention is good, this approach can seem a bit like missing the forest for the trees; or, as biologist Sandra Steingraber said in her book Raising Elijah, such pregnancy protection guides are like bomb shelters in a war, "serving as both an illusion and a distraction from some larger engagement."

The point is, there is a much bigger problem going on here that merits scrutiny, and that is the presence of so many toxic chemicals in everyday household products. We should be tackling these ingredient lists, urging manufacturers to change their formulas and asking governments to enforce tighter regulations, rather than expecting pregnant women to do all their own detective work.

Sonya Lunder is a scientist and anti-toxin advocate who makes a strong argument in an op-ed for the Guardian. She wants the focus on chemical safety to shift away from "policing women’s bodies and women’s behaviors" and instead demand action from manufacturers and regulators:

"Let’s focus on changing the laws that govern how industrial chemicals are regulated. This is a strategy that works. As you may remember, lead levels only dropped dramatically when we banned lead in paint and gasoline, not because we motivated a million parents to wash their kids’ hands and toys more often (and let’s be real here, we mean the kids’ female parents)."

An added complication, Lunder says, is the sheer number of industrial chemicals that are used and retained in human bodies, and how hard it is to pinpoint which product is causing problems, such as "increasing rates of chronic diseases, reproductive and fertility problems, and allergies." But when a connection is made, efforts should be made to have the culprit removed from store shelves.

Avoiding toxins while pregnant should still be the primary focus, she says, but combine that with broader advocacy for the kind of regulatory overhaul that we as a society truly need. Being pregnant is hard enough; women shouldn't have to play Russian Roulette with their babies' wellbeing at the same time.