Black pregnant woman eating peanut butter in kitchen. (courtesy photo)

After becoming pregnant, moms-to-be receive a lot of advice on what to do and what not to do to prepare their homes for a child, maintain their health during pregnancy, and improve their growing baby’s health from nearly everyone. Many books and magazines suggest tips for baby proofing the house and stimulating a baby’s brain while he or she is in the womb. Before conception, a doctor or nurse may tell a woman to begin using prenatal vitamins to increase her intake of calcium, iron, and folic acid, reduce intake of seafood with high levels of mercury, and stop using certain medications all to help the baby’s growth. Did you know that a healthy pregnancy begins before a woman becomes pregnant? Female preconception health, or the health of women during their reproductive years before pregnancy, can protect the health of babies women might have someday. Improving health behaviors before a woman becomes pregnant can actually help increase her chance of her becoming pregnant by creating a healthy environment for her and her baby.

Women should maintain a healthy lifestyle during their child-bearing years to ensure preconception health. This includes eating vitamin rich foods, exercising, visiting doctors for regular exams, and limiting contact with harmful chemicals. During the preconception phase, it is especially important for women to reduce their contact with harmful chemicals, which can build up in the body and affect health and future pregnancies. Some chemicals have been linked to trouble getting pregnant, difficulties during pregnancy, miscarriage, babies born too early, birth defects, early puberty, learning problems, and cancer. Harmful chemicals are often invisible – you cannot see, smell, or taste them, but they can be found at work, in your neighborhood, and at home and affect the health of an unborn child, the ability to get pregnant, and the health of future children.

However, women of color and women with lower income levels, who are less likely to receive routine and comprehensive medical care during periods both before and during pregnancy, are also more likely to be exposed to harmful chemicals and less likely to receive preconception care or counsel that emphasizes their need to reduce their contact with toxins. In particular, Latinas and African Americans often live and work in the most polluted neighborhoods, which force them to come in to contact with harmful chemicals. Additionally, as indicated in the 2017 Health Indicators for Women in Los Angeles County report by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Office of Women’s Health, a much higher percent of African American women (57.9%) and Latinas (55.8%) have unplanned pregnancies than white (23.7%) and Asian (28.4%) women. These differences make it essential that African American women and Latinas becoming informed about toxins in their environments and the effects of these toxins on maternal and child health. Awareness and education about harmful chemicals can help these women stay healthy, prepare for healthy pregnancies, and ensure the health of future generations.

You can reduce your contact with harmful chemicals by:

  • Reducing your use of toxic substances
  • Being aware of your environment
  • Avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Asking about substitutes for toxic substances

These are some simple steps you can take to improve your preconception health and plan for a healthy home, body, and baby:

  • Choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Canned foods may contain toxic chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA).
  • Keep food in glass or stainless steel containers, not plastics. Plastics may contain toxic chemicals like polyvinylchloride (PVC).
  • Read labels on foam products, clothing, and furniture. Avoid toxic “flame retardants.”
  • Use insect baits; not insecticides, pesticides, bombs, or chalks.
  • Clean with a wet cloth or mop instead of a dry cloth. Avoid sweeping, which spreads dust around.
  • Leave shoes at the door to avoid carrying toxic chemicals into your home.
  • Make a cleaner with 1 cup of white vinegar + 1 cup of water. Chemicals in strong cleaning products can affect the respiratory, nervous, and hormonal systems in humans. Products containing ammonia, ammonium quaternary compounds (quats), chlorine bleach, triclocarban, and triclosan should be avoided.
  • Use lead free paints, glues, and materials for home improvements.
  • Don’t smoke. Avoid smoke from tobacco, cooking, and fireplaces.
  • Use beauty and personal care products made without toxic chemicals

To learn more, go to the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Education & Research Center website:

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health-Office of Women’s Health:

California Department of Public Health:

US Department of Health and Human Services-Office on Women’s Health: