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Pregnancy, Parenting and Pesticides

It’s Organic September – the Soil Association’s month long campaign to raise awareness of and celebrate organic food, beauty and wellbeing. The focus this year is on food as it should be – fresh, nutritious and without unnecessary additives and chemicals. In other words food as it used to be pre’ pesticide use and processing!

Pregnancy, Parenting and Pesticides

Pesticides impact on our health and the environment and there are several reasons why pregnancy, parenting and pesticides are not a great mix. Even if you have not previously given thought to this, these are keys times when you may consider choosing organic. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN UK) say:

Physiological factors increase the vulnerability of women and children to harm from pesticide exposure. Breastfeeding and expectant mothers are particularly vulnerable.

Pesticides, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Exposure to large amounts of pesticide during pregnancy may be harmful to your developing baby leading to birth defects, low birthweight, miscarriage, premature birth or learning problems. Thankfully most of us will be exposed to much smaller quantities but anything you can do to reduce your intake will be helpful.

One of the most unfortunate legacies of pesticide use and, in my view, argument for general reform is the presence of pesticides in breastmilk. Our bodies tend to store pesticides and other toxins in body fat to protect vital organs, however this can be released during breastfeeding as fat stores are mobilised and concentrate in the fats in breastmilk.

There is still no better first food for babies but it is a great sadness that this has become tainted by our use of chemicals, many of which are now banned but still persist in the environment and our bodies. We can’t do much about past exposure but we can take steps to reduce our risks to new ones by avoiding:

  • Pesticides in the foods we eat
  • Pesticide use in the garden
  • Insect repellents
  • Head lice
  • Pet flea treatments
  • Other pest controls

Effective natural alternatives are available for all.

43% – the amount of British food found to contain pesticide residues by Government testing in 2015

Worry free Weaning

Current regulations are based on ‘acceptable’ levels for adults but do not take into consideration physiological differences in the young. There are three main reasons why babies and children are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of pesticide intake.

  • They eat a lot! – babies take in more food in relation to their body size than adults, thus increasing their exposure.
  • Until the age of 6 they have a higher ratio of water to fat in their bodies than adults. Lizzie Van founder of Organix baby and toddler foods says

fats, which in an adult ‘trap’ and store pesticide residues, are less able to do this job, leaving them to circulate in the body

  • Their systems are still maturing – the nervous system and brain, which develop rapidly in the first year, are especially susceptible to disruption and the kidneys are less able to break down and excrete toxins. Babies also produce lower levels of enzymes needed to detoxify pesticides.

In addition, fruits and vegetables, which constitute a large proportion of a baby’s diet, tend to have the highest pesticide residues.

Pregnancy, Parenting and Pesticides

How can you reduce pesticides in your food?

  • Choose organic foods where you can.
  • If you are unable to do this exclusively, include fruit and vegetables with the least pesticide residues. Pesticide Action Network UK compile an annual report which lists the best and worst levels and EWG in the US give their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. These lists change from year to year but a general trend shows those with a protective or inedible skin such as avocado, pineapple, mango, papaya, melons and peas tend to have the lowest levels – these are the ones I go for when organic versions are not available. As a general rule prioritise organic when choosing products where the skin is consumed such as berries (one sample of strawberries was shown to have more than 20 pesticide residues in the EWG study), apples, grapes and peaches or for heavily sprayed crops such as lettuces.
  • Wash before eating and peel non organic fruits and vegetables or discard outer leaves. As the greatest concentration of nutrients tends to be just under the skin and in dark green leaves I always think it is a shame to waste them and prefer to use organic. The skin is also a good source of fibre which is always welcome when pregnant!
  • Eat locally grown, seasonal food which is likely to contain less post-harvest pesticide use. Trim the fat from meat (remember this is where the body stores toxins) and the skin from poultry and fish.

98% – the amount research suggests pesticide use would drop in England and Wales if all farming was organic

What’s in a label?

It is worth knowing that unlike cosmetic regulation* there are stringent regulations for organic food and labelling, so less room for confusion. A product has to be certified and must contain at least 95% organic ingredients if it claims organic on the label. If it contains between 70% and 95% organic ingredients, organic ingredients can be mentioned only in the ingredients list, and a clear statement must be given on the front of the label showing the total percentage of the ingredients that are organic. Non organic ingredients are allowed if there is no organic equivalent.

*Read my skincare guide 10 Steps to Super Healthy Baby Skin for more information on cosmetic labelling and get 25% off Organic Baby Mini Set during Organic September with code OS25 at checkout. 

What are the other benefits of organic?

Choosing organic also means no artificial additives and preservatives (something else to be wary of for pregnancy and children – a subject for a future post perhaps), GM free and high standards of animal welfare without routine use of antibiotics and growth hormones.

50% – the average increase in wildlife on organic farms

Pregnancy, Parenthood and Pesticides

Food for thought?

Do you choose organic foods in pregnancy and for your baby? What are your main reasons?

Please comment below and share.

*Statistics from the Soil Association website

Jayne Russell has over twenty years of experience as a pre and postnatal massage and nutritional therapist and is the founder of Nom Nom – award winning, certified organic pregnancy and baby skincare. Sign up for your free skincare guide “10 Steps to Super Healthy Baby Skin” at www.nomnomskincare.com

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