Breastfeeding is widely touted as the healthiest way to feed your baby. Each mother’s milk is tailored to her baby’s specific needs. Breast milk is highly digestible and full of maternal antibodies. Breast milk from the source is always warm, never spoils and has never been recalled due to contamination.
However, several recent stories in the news have raised concerns about a mother’s influence on the safety of her milk. After a mother was arrested and charged with neglect for breastfeeding her baby while intoxicated, many wondered how much alcohol, if any, is safe while breastfeeding. Then the issue of environmental toxins in breastmilk was brought up after numerous articles about detectable amounts of DDT, PCB’s and other chemicals in breastmilk.
Personally, the articles about chemicals in breastmilk wouldn’t have kept me from breastfeeding. But they do alarm me because they highlight the vast presence of chemicals in our everyday lives, chemicals that we may not be aware of or identify as dangerous. If a nursing mother is passing toxins into her breastmilk, how was she exposed? Was she aware of her exposure? And what can nursing moms do to reduce or eliminate exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals?
In Your Home
- cleaning agents–If you haven’t already made the switch to environmentally friendly household cleaners, now is a good time to think about it. White vinegar, baking soda and essential oils will clean just about anything, or if you’re not up to making your own cleaners, most large retailers carry safer alternatives. You should also wear gloves when cleaning to block absorption through your skin, and be sure to open windows for air circulation.
- insecticide and rodenticide–Practically everyone I know battles at some point or another with ants, flies or the occasional mouse. While spraying with insecticide might work in the short term, in the long term, do you want those chemicals in your house? Experiment with natural methods of ant and fly control instead. With regard to mouse and rat poisons, as a vet tech who has seen way too many accidentally poisoned animals, I’m not a fan of rodenticide. Consider using traps in the house instead of poisons, and plug up any holes in your house to keep the rodents outside.
- plastics–the dangers of bisphenol-A, a chemical found in certain plastics, are well documented. Most people now know to not heat styrofoam or other plastic containers and to use safe plastics for storage. Some countries have banned BPA altogether, and bans on BPA in children’s products are popping up across the US. However, the chemical is still present in the lining of canned beans and vegetables, and you still need to do your homework when it comes to kid and baby products.
- on the stove–Teflon, the coating on cookware that keeps food from sticking to it, releases toxic fumes when heated to high temperatures. Stainless steel, cast iron, enamel and aluminum cookware are all safer options. Cooking with these alternatives can have a learning curve. If you find yourself burning your food, turn the temperature down and try again.
Personally, one of the most used products in my house is simple tea tree oil, which I purchased at my local Whole Foods. When diluted with water, it works fantastically to kill mold, deodorize stinky trashcans and deter ants. I’ve also dabbed it full strength on blemishes and used it to kill white mold on my marigolds.
In Your Office
- air quality–Beware of air fresheners in the workplace. Remove it if you can, and use baking soda to absorb odors instead. And put a plant on your desk to improve air quality.
- BPA free bottles for pumped milk–if you’re pumping milk, be sure your storage bottles are BPA free.
In The Kitchen
- grow your own food–plant your own veggies, fruits and herbs when possible, then don’t put any chemicals on them. Depending on your climate, you could even try for a winter garden! Freeze or can any excess food so you can enjoy homegrown food all year long.
- organic produce–If you can’t grow your own produce organically, try to purchase as much pesticide free produce as possible. If buying all organic isn’t in the budget, check out the 2010 Dirty Dozen list for the most contaminated fruits and veggies and either buy those organic or avoid them altogether.
- eat whole foods-avoid or limit processed package foods that are usually too high in salt, calories or fat, and loaded with unhealthy and potentially dangerous chemicals like MSG and HFCS.
In Your Garden
- natural gardening techniques–hand weeding is not only pesticide free, but great exercise! Try not to shake weeds as you pull them to keep seeds from scattering, and put them into the trash, not your compost pile. Mulch heavily to keep weeds down and to reduce dryness. Talk to a garden specialist about organic pre-emergents for lawns or other large areas where handweeding isn’t possible. Boiling water will kill weeds (and ants), as will white vinegar mixed with a squirt of biodegradable dish liquid. However, this mix also kills plants and grass, so spray with care. When it comes to pests on your veggies or soil-borne disease, there are lots of options (including beneficial predatory insects) for treating them without using chemicals. Talk to a specialist or do some research online before reaching for the poison.
- The Environmental Working Group’s website is loaded with information, including the Skin Deep cosmetic database and the 2010 best and worst sunscreen safety guide.
- Organic Gardening Magazine’s website can help you identify pests and plant diseases, then help you fight it without chemicals.