A Mother’s Quick and Dirty Primer for Minimizing Toxins

As mothers, one of our strongest instincts is to keep our children healthy and safe. That includes ensuring that what enters our children’s bodies will not harm them. Yet trying to completely avoid all toxins in our foods and the environment is an unrealistic goal that may only create stress—and thus produce more toxins in the body!

Indeed, it’s frustrating, disturbing, or downright frightening to read headlines about toxins found in human breast milk or about studies pointing to health problems in children or adults who were exposed to chemicals at a young age or while their mothers were pregnant. Our culture provides little support for our inquiries into what is safe and it’s not always easy to find less toxic products and create a less toxic environment.

An initial search on the internet led me to long lists of chemicals, drugs, and foods to avoid. However, I found no straightforward information about what is safer to use or ingest. So, here are my suggestions based on my years of experience as a mother, midwife, amateur cook, nutritionist, and organic gardener.

If you’re a beginner, don’t be hard on yourself or expect to instantly develop a non-toxic life-style. There are things beyond your control, including what you were exposed to as a child and habits developed within your own culture.

Try implementing these ideas one at a time, knowing that you can’t be perfect at it. Make choices when you can and when you are aware of less toxic choices.

  1. Filter your own tap water. Carry it around for the day in a glass or metal water bottle.
  2. Cook in stainless steel and use metal and wood cooking utensils.
  3. Check the ingredients on prepared food. If you don’t know what it is . . . skip it.
  4. Cook it yourself and make extra to freeze for another day.
  5. Buy organic and local produce when you can (this also assures it’s in season and cuts down on fuel burned in transporting it). Keep the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” lists close at hand (there’s an app now) http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/ when shopping.
  6. Buy grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and pastured eggs. Join a local buying club and/or buy the cheaper cuts (like oxtail and liver) to get dense nutrition and save on your pocketbook.
  7. If you’re not an experienced cook, buy a couple of basic cook books and/or take some basic cooking classes. Joy of Cooking and Nourishing Traditions are my two favorites.
  8. When buying prepared foods, choose the ones with only one to three ingredients. Heat them on the stovetop (in your stainless steel or ceramic pots) or in the oven in glass or containers.
  9. Use vinegar and baking soda to clean all sorts of things in your home. If a cleaning product doesn’t disclose the ingredients, DON’T BUY IT (after all, what are they hiding?).
  10. Don’t idle your car in the morning to warm it up. Don’t stand next to the pump when you gas up.
  11. Buy and purchase NON-GMO foods. If it’s not labeled NON-GMO (especially corn and soy) or “organic,” it’s likely GMO because there are currently no labeling or regulations for GMO foods. For motivation and information get the non-GMO shopping guide or download the app: http://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com.
  12. Eat probiotic foods—and make your own, if you like: miso, yogurt, kefir, olives, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles and more. (The jury is still out on whether to drink kombucha during pregnancy. I’d say in moderation it’s fine if you were drinking it consistently before pregnant. Especially if you brew your own, then you know what is in it and can control for the amount of sugar in it.)
  13. Skip hair dyes, nail polish, and nail polish removers during pregnancy.
  14. Consider using plain food-grade coconut oil as a moisturizer. Instead of aluminum based anti-perspirant, use none at all or switch to a deodorant.
  15. Eat fish a couple times per week. Always choose wild, not farmed or unlabeled. Check the Monterey Bay Aquarium app to stay on top of what’s currently considered the safest.
  16. For the more adventurous or the individual who already has a handle on all of the above: start soaking and preparing your own grains, as our ancestors knew how to do. More information in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and on the Weston Price Foundation web site.
  17. And for the really motivated: turn off your electronics at night, including your cell phone, and WI-FI modem. Don’t sleep in close proximity to your electronic alarm clock (all to minimize electromagnetic field waves). Walk barefoot in the grass or sand once a day.
  18. Take up a mindfulness practice, even if it’s just five minutes in the beginning. The books of Jon Kabat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh are great places to start.

Above all, find friends who have similar goals and feel motivated to develop less toxin exposing habits. We all need the support. It also helps not to have to constantly explain your choices, but to learn from and help each other. Join a local group like La Leche League or Holistic Moms to make your commitment to a non-toxic feel more normal, valuable, and possible.